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Hoops make early strides

RELATIONS between supporters of Shamrock Rovers and Cliftonville are so warm that the Hoops fans unveiled a banner to welcome their northern brethren to Tallaght before last night's game, but they hardly expected the players to follow suit.

But they did in a match that was at times so tame it resembled a pre-season game rather than a cup tie.

This was a clash between the cup holders and League of Ireland champions and a side third in the Irish League, but neither team seemed to read the script.

Rovers will travel to Belfast for the second leg of their quarter-final in a fortnight with a two-goal cushion thanks to goals either side of half-time from Billy Dennehy and Colin Hawkins. They will expect to progress on this evidence.

Stephen Kenny fielded three debutants in Hawkins, Graham Gartland and Daryl Kavanagh, while his entire back five and front two were not at the club last year. Understandably, things weren't disjointed at times.

Cliftonville, meanwhile, named a strong team after a weekend off from league action but, despite being in mid-season, they started sluggishly.

That allowed the hosts to settle early and they almost led within seven minutes as goalkeeper Ryan Brown was forced to parry Dennehy's dangerous free-kick into Aaron Greene's path, the former Sligo striker missing a golden opportunity for a first goal for his local club.

DELICIOUS

The home fans in the sparsely populated stands didn't have to wait too long for a first home goal of 2012, however, and it was one of the old guard who provided it. Gary McCabe's delicious low cross had danger written all over it and Dennehy obliged with a neat finish.

Rovers' new goalkeeper Oscar Jansson was called into action to save Diarmuid O'Carroll's effort, but he was less assured when he failed to deal with a backpass and then flapped at the resultant corner.

Cliftonville did nothing to trouble the Swede thereafter, as the Hoops reached the end of a poor half in front.

The on-loan Tottenham stopper was called into action in the opening minutes of the second period, turning a well-struck Eamonn Seydak free-kick over the bar.

His opposite number Brown reacted brilliantly minutes later as his defence stopped and allowed Chris Turner to storm on to a mishit Greene shot only for the midfielder to be denied brilliantly.

McCabe finally added some spark as the game entered the final quarter, stinging Brown's gloves before Ronan Scannell bravely blocked Dennehy's follow-up.

From the corner, McCabe found Hawkins and the player/coach couldn't fail to mark his first game in green and white with a goal.

Jansson again looked ponderous as Ronan Scannell fed his brother Chris who beat the 'keeper to the ball, but couldn't finish from an acute angle. Some slipshod defending saw former Hoops man Barry Johnston threaten, but Kerrea Gilbert snuffed him out.

The Hoops closed it out from there, but they'll have to step it up a notch when Monaghan visit on Friday night.

SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Jansson; Gilbert, Hawkins, Gartland, Powell; McCabe, Turner, O'Donnell (Rice 88), Dennehy; Greene (Finn 77), Kavanagh (O'Neill 65).

CLIFTONVILLE -- Brown; R Scannell, Caldwell, McVeigh, Seydak; Garrett, Catney, McMullan (Templeton 88), Donnelly (C Scannell 65); Johnston; O'Carroll (Boyce 75).

REF -- N Doyle (Dublin).