Rovers foiled by Mannus howler
AN entertaining afternoon for the punters, although not such an enjoyable occasion for the players, with slippy conditions ensuring a plethora of mistakes and embarrassment for both goalkeepers. Enough to leave both teams feeling they could have won.
Sporting shaded it, perhaps understandably given that Rovers were coming off the back of a draining game with Juventus and appeared to be in control with a 2-1 advantage for the majority of the second half.
Then, a kamikaze back-pass from Conan Byrne gifted Shamrock Rovers the equaliser and the momentum.
The Hoops subsequently took the lead, before an Alan Mannus howler gave the hosts a point back.
In the end, Fingal could have won it, when Kenny Browne fired wildly over the bar in time added on.
"I definitely feel it's two points dropped," said Sporting boss Liam Buckley, bemoaning his side's 11th draw of the campaign.
"I felt we were comfortable, and the sloppy back-pass was a lifeline for them. We've been killing ourselves in the last few weeks giving away stupid goals."
His opposite number, Michael O'Neill, however, dislikes Morton Stadium, and derived little pleasure from yesterday's visit, particularly frustrated by long stoppages when ball-boys disappeared and players had to retrieve errant shots from beyond the athletics track.
Nevertheless, this point, which brings Rovers level with St Pat's at the top of the table, could prove important in the long run.
In other years, teams distracted by European exploits have tamely folded in such fixtures and with Bohs and Pat's drawing on Friday night, Rovers haven't lost any ground, despite the considerable distraction that Juventus provide. Next up is Thursday's second leg in Modena.
"All in all, it wasn't a bad point," said O'Neill. "We knew it would be difficult coming here and we had to change our shape to match Fingal's shape in the first half. It's not an easy place to come to. There is no atmosphere and it drags you down."
Bouts of torrential rain made things even more uncomfortable in the exposed venue, but at least there was an abundance of goalscoring chances to keep minds occupied.
This was an entertaining and open Dublin derby, aided by Fingal's fluid style; they deserve better support for their expansive style of play.
Once they survived an early scare, when Darren Quigley bravely denied Thomas Stewart, Buckley's charges took the initiative and were ahead within 11 minutes when Eamonn Zayed emerged from Craig Sives' blind side to divert a low header beyond Mannus.
Shane McFaul had struck the bar from distance shortly before, and Alan Kirby forced Mannus into action shortly afterwards.
Fingal, deploying a 4-3-3 formation, were dominant in midfield, with Rovers adopting their formation to match them in that department.
The sun came out just after the half-hour mark, and it signalled a turnaround in fortunes for the visitors, who levelled courtesy of Sives' first goal for the club. The defender demonstrated technical quality to sidefoot-volley a James Chambers delivery into the top corner.
Gary O'Neill, returning from a lay-off, was a menacing presence for his hour on the pitch, and inspired Fingal in the period after the resumption. His expert link-up play set up Ronan Finn, whose shot was unconvincingly dealt with by Mannus, rebounding off the 'keeper's chest into the path of O'Neill, who followed up to convert with aplomb.
O'Neill then teed up Zayed, who was inches away from the insurance goal.
His side missed him after he was withdrawn. Nevertheless, Fingal seemed relatively comfortable until they gifted their opponents a way back into the game with a quarter of an hour remaining when Byrne inadvertently played the assist for Gary Twigg, who raced away from Browne and calmly dispatched.
Before Fingal could recover they were behind with sub Stephen Rice collecting a loose ball and unleashing a powerful effort that fizzed through the hands of Quigley.
The drama wasn't yet complete, however.
Three minutes shy of full-time, Mannus -- who was having a bad day at the office -- spilled a Finn drive and watched in agony as the ball bounced over the line.
"Alan has been magnificent for us this season," said O'Neill. "He's the first to analyse his own performances, and he's disappointed now."
It was painful for the Hoops supporters -- and yet it could have been worse in the throes of injury-time when Browne blasted into oblivion with only Mannus to beat. A typically chaotic end to a strange afternoon.
Sporting Fingal -- Quigley, O'Brien, Williams, Browne, Fitzgerald; Finn, McFaul, Kirby (Dawson 86); Byrne (Gannon 82), O'Neill (Crowe 63), Zayed.
Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus, Sives, Murray, Price, Stevens; Chambers (Rice 55), Turner, Bayly (Bradley 69), Kavanagh; Stewart (Dennehy 45), Twigg.
ref -- A Buttimer (Cork).
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