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No hangover from Euro games: O'Neill

SHAMROCK Rovers boss Michael O'Neill says there was no European hangover for his players as they were held to a draw by Sporting Fingal yesterday, ending a four-game winning streak in the league for the Hoops.

Today Rovers and St Patrick's Athletic hold joint leadership of the Airtricity League Premier Division table, level on 42 points ahead of Bohemians who are two points off the lead but have a game in hand, thus teeing up next Sunday's clash between Bohs and Rovers at Tallaght as a key game in the 2010 title race.

It was a case of contrasting weather at Morton Stadium in front of 1,433 fans yesterday (bright sunshine one minute, torrential rain the next). And contrasting emotions, as at one stage Rovers appeared to be on their way to a first league defeat in 11 games, then the Hoops raced into a 3-2 lead, only to be pegged back by Ronan Finn's 86th-minute equaliser to make it 3-3.


Strange to think that Fingal scored more goals against Rovers here than the €150m worth of talent from Juventus, the first time in O'Neill's 73-match reign as Rovers boss that the Hoops shipped three goals, Rovers now parking their league championship ambitions for a week to focus on Thursday's game away to the Bianconeri in the Europa League.

"A lot is made of the European thing but it's not easy for the lads, there are a lot of demands on them and a lot of travel," said Rovers boss O'Neill. "Big games are draining and yesterday was another big game for us against a side who have been challenging all season. But this is what the players came to this club for, to be involved in big games and we have a big week ahead of us, Juventus away on Thursday and then home to Bohemians on Sunday.

"Morton Stadium just isn't a great venue to come to. It's a Sunday afternoon and there's very little atmosphere, so we had to dig out a result, which we did.

"We could easily have gone ahead early on and then we found ourselves a goal down, and we should have done better defensively for their first goal.

"Over the 90 minutes, a draw was a fair result. When you are in front as we were, you're disappointed to give away a goal and Alan Mannus is disappointed with the third goal, but overall I think a point each was fair.

"It was an uncharacteristic error from Alan, and maybe their keeper would look back on the third goal and admit that he'd have liked to do better.

"Stephen Bradley said the shot deflected off him for the third goal and that didn't help our keeper either. The deluge that came down made it very difficult for both keepers.

"Alan has been magnificent for us this season and I'm sure he will be magnificent again going forward. I can't blame him and we suffer the disappointment as a team," added O'Neill.

Rovers could have been in front after only three minutes when keeper Darren Quigley denied Tommy Stewart, but Fingal looked more of a threat after that with Eamon Zayed and Shane McFaul going close before the former opened the scoring on 11 minutes, blasting past Mannus from Conan Byrne's ball.

The Hoops did draw level on 34 minutes, defender Craig Sives scoring his first goal in the Rovers shirt with a well-taken volley from a James Chambers corner, but just five minutes into the second half Rovers were caught again, Gary O'Neill the first to react after Mannus had failed to hold on to Ronan Finn's shot.

A poor goal for Rovers to concede but the next goal -- the fourth of the day on 75 minutes -- was a real nightmare as Conan Byrne was very lax with a back pass to Kenny Browne and that gifted Gary Twigg the opening he needed to collect the free ball and fire an equaliser past Quigley.

But the drama wasn't over as Rovers took the lead on 80 minutes, Hoops substitute Stephen Rice firing past Quigley from outside the box after Fingal failed to clear from Sives.

That spurred Fingal into a reaction as they made it 3-3 on 86 minutes, Finn getting the better of Mannus from outside the box.

There was even the chance of another twist after that as Fingal defender Kenny Browne had a good chance in injury time to nick the winner, but he fired well over the bar and Twigg was also off target two minutes into injury time.

"We killed ourselves in the last few weeks with some stupid goals, in the European games and again yesterday and we have to cut them out," said Fingal boss Liam Buckley. "We can't keep giving teams an opportunity to get back into the game.

"It's another draw for us and we're disappointed, to be 2-1 up and then give away a horrendous goal with a sloppy back-pass. So it's a case of two points dropped for us. We had the better chances, Darren Quigley did make a couple of good saves for us but had a better quality of chances.

"At 2-1 up with 20 minutes to go I wanted us to see the game out as we were comfortable at that stage and they weren't giving us too many problems, but we gave away a stupid goal."