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Hoops take heart from Sheppard's late leveller

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Stephen Rice gets away from Gavin Peers at Tallaght Stadium.

Stephen Rice gets away from Gavin Peers at Tallaght Stadium.

SPORTSFILE

Stephen Rice gets away from Gavin Peers at Tallaght Stadium.

ON a night that Shamrock Rovers welcomed a selection of former players to Tallaght, the current crop were unable to get the victory they needed to give 2013 a chance of featuring prominently in the history books.

It was looking far worse for Trevor Croly's men as they trailed going into the final five minutes, with an equaliser from Karl Sheppard rescuing a point from a game that ended in frantic fashion as Sligo's Anthony Elding was dismissed for an aggressive challenge on Stephen Rice in the immediate aftermath of the Hoops' goal.

With a third of the season elapsed, Croly's charges are 13 points behind the defending champions and this game served as a microcosm of their campaign to date. In short, while the performance hinted at potential, they failed to make periods of dominance pay.

Nevertheless, he will be heartened by the manner in which his team fought back to avoid defeat after defensive messing gifted Sligo the lead.

This encounter had many of the attributes you would expect from a meeting between two sides with title ambitions.

From the outset, it was well contested and played at a reasonable pace, with neither protagonist giving too much away. The hosts edged possession in the opening quarter, but they struggled to do very much with it.

They grew more dangerous as the half progressed and almost broke the deadlock in a frantic scramble born from the invention of right-full Pat Sullivan. His cross was fired goalwards by Ronan Finn, but Evan McMillan got his body in the way.

Then, James Chambers followed up with a left-footer that was prevented from testing Gary Rogers by the body of Alan Keane.

Joseph Ndo, the veteran Sligo midfielder, generally has the quality to operate at his own pace. As the Dubliners got on top, they ruffled the ex-Cameroon international and on two occasions he was uncharacteristically bundled out of possession.

Balance

He was booked in a foul that arose from the first instance and, second time around, a swift counter from the Tallaght men resulted in a Sheppard cross being directed straight at Rogers by the slightly off balance Rice.

Sheppard was involved in the best chance of the half when he outfoxed Gavin Peers on the left flank and teed up Gary McCabe, whose shot lacked the conviction to trouble Rogers.

Ian Baraclough made a change at the break, replacing the ineffective Ryan Connolly with the dynamic Kieran Djilali with a view to providing better support to Elding from the left.

The home side continued to probe, though, with Finn narrowly off target from distance.

Sligo had yet to create a chance of note, and when it arrived in the 55th minute the assist came from their opposition.

Sligo pressure contributed, with Barry Murphy hurried into a sloppy kickout after receiving a backpass, and his clearance was miscontrolled dreadfully by Danny Ledwith, who inadvertently set David Cawley through on goal. With impressive calm, the Mayo man picked his spot and executed the finish.

He removed his shirt in celebration, while Ndo angered the locals with an elaborate dance routine and smile in their direction.

It left Croly with no option but to commit numbers, a tactic that left them vulnerable on the break, with a timely Derek Foran interception required to deny Djilali.

At the other end, McMillan excelled by halting a promising Sullivan excursion, with the red shirts regrouping to starve opportunities. Croly made a double substitution with 12 minutes remaining, with Ciaran Kilduff and Sean O'Connor sent into the fray.

They duly made an impact, with Kilduff's endeavour central to the leveller, Sheppard eventually nodding home from close range.

Elding was ordered off by Alan Kelly after laying into Rice from the kick-off, and it set up a grandstand finish, with the Hoops in the ascendancy. They nearly claimed glory in injury-time when a Kilduff header crashed off the wrong side of an upright.

This draw knocks Sligo off the top of the table, with new leaders Derry coming to the Showgrounds on Monday. Croly, on the other hand, must prepare for a showdown with a Dundalk side on the charge under his predecessor, Stephen Kenny.

Shamrock Rovers – Murphy, Sullivan, McGuinness, Foran, Ledwith; Chambers (Kilduff 78); McCabe, Rice, Finn, Dennehy (O'Connor 78); Sheppard.

Sligo Rovers – Rogers, Keane, McMillan, Peers, Greene; Ndo (Ventre 74), Cawley; Millien (Henderson 90), Lynch, Connolly (Djilali 45); Elding.

Ref – A Kelly (Cork)

Irish Independent