O'Connor's cracker stuns off-key Hoops
Shamrock Rvs 0 Bray Wds 1
A remarkable three points for Bray. Hope for everybody else.
Shamrock Rovers proved they are beatable with a display on home turf that lacked the penetration to break down a Bray side that grabbed an early lead and clung on to it for dear life.
It didn't help that they spent the majority of the game without Gary Twigg, who faces a spell on the sidelines with a hamstring problem.
Nevertheless, despite a range of options on the bench, the reality is that the hot title favourites failed to force a save of note from Bray 'keeper Darren Quigley, who was protected by imperious centre-halves Adam Mitchell and Derek Prendergast, a young duo that mopped up anything the Tallaght men had to offer.
Experienced midfielder Gary Dempsey also outshone his hooped counterparts to secure a precious victory.
Opposition managers had already expressed the fear that the title race could develop into a Hoops procession. But Bray asked questions by popping up with a sixth-minute goal that added intrigue to a game which was widely considered to be a foregone conclusion.
Ex-Hoop Danny O'Connor provided the strike -- and he will have scored few better. Decent approach work from Dempsey and Conor Murphy created space and the central midfielder stepped in to dispatch the ball from distance into the top corner.
That was a strange one for the locals as they had started quite well and, for a team who are often criticised for a direct approach, were actually spreading the ball around nicely.
Indeed, they could have hit the front by that point, when a fine team move built around the overlapping right-full Pat Sullivan culminated with an uncharacteristic miss from Twigg.
The night went from bad to worse for Rovers' star man when he fell to the turf before the interval with a hamstring injury that he tried to persevere through. On the sideline, Michael O'Neill watched the Scotsman toil for a couple of minutes and made the decision to withdraw their talisman. He could be out for a couple of weeks; bad news with Bohemians coming up next Friday.
Still, the depth of their squad is such that they were able to spring Gary O'Neill.
The hosts continued to dominate yet, despite the monopoly on possession, all visiting 'keeper Quigley had to do before the break was collect some stray crosses. Ronan Finn threatened from distance, but opposition front man Murphy did the same.
The expectation was that the hosts would come out of the blocks after the resumption with purpose. It didn't happen.
Pat Devlin's side were prepared to soak up pressure, with Dempsey orchestrating in the engine room and Mitchell and Prendergast dominant in the physical exchanges.
With the Hoops midfield nullified by Bray's 4-5-1, the champions increasingly went for the long ball, yet there was no real sense of direction. Quigley was still employed in the role of sweeper rather than shotstopper.
Karl Sheppard was sent into the fray and, with 15 minutes left, O'Neill introduced Dean Kelly as his final throw of the dice. Sheppard squandered a half chance when there were options in the centre, symptomatic of the poor decision making that littered the second half.
It was a feature of the final quarter of an hour, with Rovers owning the ball, but looking hesitant in terms of what to do with it. O'Neill chose the wrong option on one occasion, while a Sheppard header trickled wide in a crowded goalmouth.
But the clearest second-half opportunity fell to the Seagulls on the break, with Chris Shields way off target from 12 yards. That didn't matter in the end. The small travelling crew soaked up the celebrations, as the Hoops faithful reflected on an evening that should serve as a wake-up call.
Shamrock Rovers --Mannus, Sullivan, Murray, Oman, Stevens; McCabe (Sheppard 57), Rice, Finn, Dennehy; Twigg (O'Neill 37), Kilduff (Kelly 75)
Bray Wanderers -- Quigley, Webster, Mitchell, Prendergast, Massey; Zambra, Dempsey, O'Connor (G Kelly 50), Shields, J Kelly; Murphy (Mulroy 75).
REF -- Derek Tomney (Dublin).