Thursday 21 September 2017

North keeps Saints' title flame alive

St Pat's 1, Shamrock Rvs 1

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

A thriller in Inchicore and, all things considered, a good point for Shamrock Rovers.

Those who were involved will wake up with tired limbs this morning and minimal recovery time ahead of Thursday's big European date with Rubin Kazan. The consolation is that their endeavours at Inchicore could prove very important come the end of the season.

St Pat's had a greater need for victory, although they will also be happy with events from Derry which means they are still only four points off the pace in a title race that is building towards a gripping conclusion.

The Hoops, on the other hand, are a point behind the Candystripes with a game in hand. Ultimately, they remain in control of their own destiny.

This was one of those games where both parties will reflect on missed opportunities. With the driving wind and occasional rain added to the usual intensity of a game between these Dublin rivals, this was an extremely lively encounter played at a decent pace.

Fixture congestion has stretched Michael O'Neill's squad, although opposing managers would like to have the options which the Northern Irishman has in reserve.

He made seven changes from the team which lost to Sligo in dramatic circumstances on Friday, with the only obvious gamble coming at right-full where suspensions to Pat Sullivan and Pat Flynn -- both ordered off in that encounter -- opened the door for Sean Gannon to make a league debut.

Otherwise, O'Neill juggled his resources, with key midfielder Conor McCormack making a welcome return to action; he missed the drama of the encounter with Partizan Belgrade. Aston Villa-bound Enda Stevens was also included after taking a break due to a family bereavement.

With the Saints believing that Friday's results brought them back into the title picture, they started with purpose and could have broken the deadlock when a loose ball dropped attractively for Anto Murphy. Alas, he dragged a shot wide, and the Saints lost momentum.

The champions struck in the 18th minute. Belgrade hero Stephen O'Donnell again proved his aptitude for finding the right spot, picking up the pieces from a corner and unleashing a left-footer that nestled beyond Gary Rogers.

It took the wind out of the Saints' sails. Indeed, they might have shipped a second only for Rogers to react smartly to a Stevens attempt which grew in danger courtesy of a sharp deflection.

pushed

The Saints needed a response and, with the wind favouring them from the resumption, they pushed with intent. Some of the Richmond faithful were calling for the introduction of Danny North, and he arrived with Derek Doyle as part of a double substitution after an hour. It reaped dividends.

As it happened, an equaliser that was deserved on the balance of play came after a major let-off for the hosts, with Rogers at full stretch to push a Craig Sives header to safety.

The Saints reacted, and Stevens -- back on his old stomping ground -- misjudged the flight of a diagonal ball. North anticipated it perfectly and confidently smashed past Ryan Thompson to level things up. Game on.

It roused Rovers back into life, with Ciaran Kilduff guilty of wastefulness in a goalmouth scramble. O'Neill utilised the array of talent on his bench, and introduced Rohan Ricketts and Ronan Finn. Immediately, Ricketts was prominent, shaving the post with a daisycutter following a purposeful run. Finn got in on the act by striking the woodwork from distance.

At the other end, North darted through to poke narrowly wide. Then, as full-time approached, the impressive Englishman was again causing havoc, weaving into the box before firing at the feet of the advancing Thompson.

The natives groaned, and were similarly frustrated when Stephen Bradley tamely lofted over a free from a good position at the death. Still, it's all to play for.

St Patrick's Athletic -- Rogers, Pender, Kenna, E McMillan, Bermingham; Murphy (Doyle 60), Mulcahy, Bradley, O'Connor; Kavanagh, Daly (North 60).

Shamrock Rovers -- Thompson, Gannon, Sives, Murray, Stevens; McCabe (Ricketts 76), O'Donnell, McCormack, Dennehy (Finn 76); Twigg, Kilduff.

Ref -- N Doyle (Dublin).

Irish Independent

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