Rovers keep Cork's title party on hold
Shamrock Rovers 3 Cork city 1
There was redemption for Shamrock Rovers and Stephen Bradley last night as they helped delay Cork City's celebrations by beating the champions-elect for the first time in the league this season.
Goals from distance by Ronan Finn and Brandon Miele at Tallaght Stadium punished a sloppy first-half display by John Caulfield's side who, despite reducing the arrears through Gearóid Morrissey with 20 minutes left, conceded again to Michael O'Connor's late effort.
Dundalk's pasting of St Patrick's Athletic meant there would be no official end to the title race last night but three recent league defeats represent a concern for Caulfield. Up to the time of Sean Maguire's departure in late July, City hadn't suffered one reverse in the league. More worryingly, perhaps, is their failure to score more than once in seven of their eight league games since.
Needing just five points to be seal their first crown since 2005, victory at Limerick on Friday week would push them almost there. In a twist of fate, it might be a fixture against three-in-a-row champions Dundalk, yet to be rearranged, which presents the chance of stumbling over the line.
There had been much friction between the two opposing managers in the build-up to the game caused by a controversial EA Sports Cup semi-final last month.
With Caulfield accusing Dave Webster of play-acting to get Alan Bennett sent off, the sequel was avoided due to the Rovers man missing the game through suspension.
Former Ireland defender Bennett did start, readied for battle, but was withdrawn at the break following another forgettable trip to Dublin.
In what was the first real sight of goal by Rovers following Tomer Chencinski's long punt which Gary Shaw knocked on, Ronan Finn opted to let fly from 25 yards.
Mark McNulty was well positioned by deal with the low effort, yet a deflection off Bennett wrong-footed his goalkeeper and gave the Hoops their lead.
Cork had little to offer in response as an attacking threat bar a couple of crosses that Chencinski batted away and Miele could have extended their lead only to nod tamely at McNulty from six yards.
If he was profligate then, he more than atoned with a brilliantly-executed sixth goal of the season on 20 minutes.
Trevor Clarke's marauding run from his own half, skipping past four challenges along the way, made the space of Miele to drift in from the left and unleash a curling shot beyond the outstretched arm of McNulty.
To conclude a miserable half for Bennett, he was penalised for a push in the box as he looked to reduce the deficit and his manager took him off at the interval as part of a double substitution.
Youngster Conor Ellis was thrust into attack, later joined by another substitute, Achille Campion, and the comeback efforts yielded a goal with 20 minutes left through Gearóid Morrissey's left-footed drive from distance.
That was to be the summation of their recovery attempts, though, as Finn exploited space down the right flank to cross for O'Connor to add a third for Rovers from close range with five minutes remaining.
The three points propel Rovers above Derry City into third place, an automatic passage into next season's Europa League.