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Rovers teach Pats a lesson

ST PATRICK'S Athletic meekly surrendered outright leadership of the Premier Division table to the season's surprise packets Dundalk last night thanks to a very tame 2-1 defeat at home to Shamrock Rovers.

But there was no ranting or raving from Saints boss Pete Mahon, no on-pitch humiliation of his players a la Phil Brown at Hull, no dressing room doors kicked or tea-cups thrown. Just an acceptance that an off-colour Pats were simply beaten by opponents who were sharper, more clever and just better than the home side.

The 2-1 scoreline could have been even worse for Pats, who barely troubled Hoops keeper Alan Mannus, as Rovers also missed a first-half penalty, and Rovers were able to risk starting the game with strikers Gary Twigg and Dessie Baker on the bench and still win the game.

"We were beaten by a better team," Mahon shrugged after the 2-1 defeat, the points won for Rovers with a two-goal blast from striker Thomas Stewart, with a late free kick from Alex Williams the only response from a limp Pats side.

"The players have been very, very good for us and I am not going to criticise them after a defeat, we have to stay positive and be realistic and I hope the fans are realistic.

"We're still top of the league, though just on goal difference now, and we're in the final of the Setanta Cup.

"Rovers were the better side, and the ironic thing is, they scored both their goals when we were having probably our best spells in the game, but having said that they had hit the woodwork and missed a penalty before they scored the first.

"Rovers knew that if we had beaten them last night they would have been eight points behind so maybe they were that bit more motivated than we were.

"We're disappointed to lose at home but there's no shame in being beaten by a better team, and that's what happened last night.

"Rovers were stronger than us physically, they were quicker to the ball, they used the ball better at times. They turned us in the early part of the game and that sapped us a little bit.

"We can be negative if we want to be but we need to remember, this was the first time we conceded two goals here in the league. It's another set back for us, we were beaten at home in the league by Drogheda and I challenged the players to respond to that, we did that by coming back very strong, we beat Sligo three times, beat Bray and Galway. We have UCD next up and that won't be an easy game," added Mahon.

Pats had been very strong at the back, especially at home, as evident in the fact that keeper Gary Rogers had conceded just one goal in five league games at Richmond Park, but that mean streak seemed to be absent from the off last night.

Maybe it's the busy schedule - last night was the 15th game of the season for Pats - or perhaps it's because early-season front runners like Pats are now being really tested by clubs such as Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk, both coming into some good form, but Pats looked second-best against the Hoops.

Rovers had an ideal chance to open the scoring on 34 minutes when referee Dave McKeown awarded a penalty after Pats captain Damian Lynch fouled Pat Kavanagh in the box, but James Chambers struck his spot kick off the foot of the post and Pats escaped.

But only for two minutes as Rovers were in front on 36 minutes, Tommy Stewart netting his first goal for the Hoops after a slack pass from Ryan Guy found its way to Stewart via a block from Robert Bayly.

And former Derry City man Stewart made it 2-0 on 58 minutes, when he picked up on a long ball from Bayly and as keeper Rogers was left unprotected, Stewart scored with relative ease.

The home side did finally get on the scoresheet, with a minute to go, as substitute Alex Williams sent a well-taken free kick past Alan Mannus, but that was too little and too late for Pete Mahon's side.