'Radical change on the way for Rovers'
A BIT MORE passion but still no points for Shamrock Rovers after their fourth successive defeat in last night's Dublin derby with a title-chasing St Patrick's Athletic put a massive dent in the club's hopes of making it into Europe next season.
And while a committed second-half display from the Hoops showed some signs of encouragement, the reigning champions still finished on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline and their stand-in boss Brian Laws has told the club that "radical changes" are needed at Tallaght Stadium before the club can become a force again.
September has been a truly dismal month for the Hoops as they have lost the League Cup final, exited the FAI Cup and taken just one point from two league games.
Seven points off third place with five games to go, participation in Europe next season could well depend on how St Pats, now into second place in the table, fare in the FAI Cup, all of that a far cry from the situation of 12 months ago when Rovers were competing in the group stages of the Europa League.
Finding themselves 2-0 down after just eight minutes thanks to a controversial penalty by former Hoop Sean O'Connor and then an own goal by Colin Hawkins, Rovers took advantage of some sleepy second-half play by Pats and got back into the game with a 76th-minute stunner from Gary McCabe, but the losing run carries on as thoughts turn to next season.
"The players are playing for their contracts, they don't need to be told," Laws said after his first league game in charge. "There are a lot of people who are not at this football club who want to play for it, and if the players here don't step up to the mark they won't be here next year, there will be radical changes.
"I have come here and the job description is the same, to have a look at the whole structure of the club on and off the field. We know what players' contracts are up, what positions need to be strengthened and where we feel we need to improve.
"I have already put that forward to the board and hopefully they will take note of that because it's not just changes on the park but off it as well, it needs to be a bit more professional," added Laws, who said he was heartened by the second-half efforts from his charges.
"I was disappointed with the first goal as I couldn't see where there was a penalty. Everyone was bemused as to why he gave it, we tried to ask who (it was) but the referee just said he saw a hand and wasn't sure whose it was," he says.
"The second goal was disappointing as it was the naiveté from a throw-in which cost us that second goal and gave us a mountain to climb.
"But what they showed me in the second half was the mentality that I now expect from them, they really went for it and they were very unfortunate not to get anything from the game. There was only one team in it in the second half.
"The bar has been set now in terms of that display, that was a better display, with more energy and purpose and I was much happier with the second half but not pleased with the result."
Laws reacted to Saturday's tame defeat in the League Cup final by making changes, with young full backs Sean Gannon and Shane O'Connor pitched into an injury-hit back four while Kerrea Gilbert, scorer of an own goal on Saturday didn't even make the bench.
That makeshift back four -- Gannon and O'Connor has made just four league starts for Rovers between them before last night -- had no time to settle in as they were 2-0 down within minutes.
Referee Neil Doyle felt that a Rovers man had handled in the box from Sean O'Connor's shot and the winger stepped up to convert the penalty, while two minutes later a Jake Carroll shot was headed by Hawkins past his own keeper.
Pats had destroyed Rovers with a 5-1 scoreline here in April but instead of going up a gear, a tired looking Inchicore side backed off and that allowed McCabe in to nick a late goal. The arrival of sub Aaron Greene put some pep into the Rovers attack but even seven minutes of injury time wasn't enough for an equaliser.
So it's Pats who march on in confidence, aware that a win away to Drogheda United on Friday would put them within three points of long-time leaders Sligo.
"At this stage it's just about getting results," said manager Liam Buckley. "We have a tough one in Drogheda on Friday but Sligo have some hard matches as well. We didn't play particularly well last night but we did enough to win the game and we will fight tooth and nail until the death."