Reigning champs St Pats claim Dublin bragging rights with victory over Shamrock Rovers
St Patrick's Athletic 2 Shamrock Rovers 1
THE FAI Cup used to be a source of agony for St Patrick’s Athletic, not a tonic to cure their misery.
Clearly, the relationship is changing. Seven days on from a miserable defeat to Dundalk which put an early end to their title hopes, Liam Buckley’s side brought the good vibes back to Inchicore.
The patrons enjoyed this deserved win over a Shamrock Rovers side that have now adopted the burden of a cup drought.
Since he assumed control in Dublin 24, Fenlon has been consistently reminded of the Hoops fans’ desperation to secure a trophy that last went their way in 1987. The ‘Drive for 25’ - a tally built during the era where they dominated the Blue Riband - must wait for another year.
Pat’s ended a 53 year wait last November, and they will hope this scalp revitalises their campaign.
They sensed they were on their way when Keith Fahey, a key player in that Aviva victory who duly packed his bags for Rovers, was withdrawn with 25 minutes remaining as the Hoops failed to make inroads on a two goal half-time deficit.
However, their delight was replaced by anxiety when his replacement Gary McCabe set up a grandstand finish with a stunning free kick. But Buckley’s restructured defence managed to hold out and restore their pride.
He’d needed to mix things up in the aftermath of a humbling lesson at the hands of Dundalk at this venue.
James Chambers moved from right full to replace the suspended Greg Bolger in midfield with Lee Desmond coming into the back four.
Meanwhile, Kenny Browne, who was dismissed for two first half yellows in that match, dropped to the bench with Jason McGuinness preferred.
The latter started shakily against his former club and nearly gifted them an opener when a dreadfully judged backpass was intercepted by MIkey Drennan with the former Aston Villa youth wasting the opportunity with his less favoured right foot.
When Ryan Brennan headed narrowly over from the next Hoops advance, it looked as though the Saints could be in for another sticky evening.
As the first half minutes ticked by, though, the locals steadied the nerves and realised they could have some joy if they showed composure in their own half against a visiting team that employed a high line early on and attempted to push forward.
From stringing a few passes together in their own territory, the Saints fashioned a break that culminated with an Aaron Greene effort being deflected wide for a corner which Sean Hoare turned goalwards only for Craig Hyland to produce a fine stop.
With Chambers helping to swing the pendulum, Buckley’s troops pressed up the park and forced a Rovers mistake just after the half hour mark that led to the deadlock breaker.
Pat Cregg was the guilty party, misjudging a crossfield pass after he found himself with nowhere to go when Gavin Brennan was forced to send the ball back in his direction.
Conan Byrne gratefully intercepted Cregg’s present and clinically opened his body to curl a right footer into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Rovers heads bowed, and further pain followed as the hosts doubled their advantage in the 37th minute. Again, the Saints were given a helping hand as a McGuinness rose to meet a Byrne corner with a header that Hyland carelessly allowed to slip through his hands.
Fenlon marched into the away dressing room at half-time knowing that a dramatic improvement in concentration levels was necessary.
Ryan Brennan and Brandon Miele didn’t return for the resumption with Stephen McPhail and Kieran Marty Waters introduced. McPhail was seeking to start another cup journey seven years after he led Cardiff out in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
Those switches could have been made redundant from the restart when Greene was left one-on-one with Hyland who was on a mission to atone for earlier sloppiness and put his body in the way to block.
Rovers needed the action to switch to the other end, an area where they are light due to winter signing Danny North’s persistent fitness issues.
Drennan has shouldered the burden manfully for a 21-year-old short on senior experience and he would benefit from some help. He dragged a left footer into the side netting when finding space but it was all a bit predictable.
Fenlon searched for invention by springing McCabe in place of Fahey who applauded all sides of the ground as he left to abuse from the fans that used to adore him.
They continued to bang their drums, even when Greene was again thwarted by Hyland from close range.
The dangers of such profligacy was emphasised when McCabe stepped up to power a goal of the month contender into the roof of the net from distance. It was too little, too late for a Rovers group that will now have their own questions to answer.