Monday 23 April 2018

Baker's unlucky cameo gives O'Neill striker crisis

After just one game of the new League of Ireland season, Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill is already facing a striker shortage.

Last season's top-scorer Gary Twigg missed Saturday's draw with Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds. And to compound matters, Dessie Baker left the venue in an ambulance after sustaining an arm injury.

Baker came on as a 57th-minute substitute, but lasted just 11 minutes before picking up a knock. "Dessie got caught in a challenge," O'Neill said. "I don't think it was malicious, but he has potentially broken his arm, so we'll need to look at that."

Without Twigg, O'Neill started with Graham Barrett as a lone striker on Saturday, with Billy Dennehy and Sean O'Connor offering support from the wings. It's a formation he is likely to have to stick with, as Baker joins Twigg in the treatment room.

O'Neill added: "We set out with a 4-3-3 which gave us options in the wide areas. We don't have a natural front two at the minute, but we have good options in the middle of the park."

Baker's brief contribution did have the desired effect on the game, however. The home side took the lead in the opening half, and would have gone two ahead had Alan Mannus not managed to turn Richie Ryan's goal-bound shot onto the crossbar on 55 minutes.

Baker came on two minutes later, and the visitors got their equaliser soon after, when referee Anthony Buttimer adjudged that a free-kick from James Chambers was handled in the box by a Sligo defender. Chambers stepped up to convert the spot-kick himself.

Sligo Rovers boss Paul Cook felt that Mannus' save from Ryan was the game's key moment.

"I think the turning point might have been the shot that the 'keeper tipped onto the crossbar. If that went in, we probably would have gone on to win the game," Cook said

Mannus also denied Eoin Doyle from a first half free-kick, though the former Hoops man did open the scoring on 22 minutes, when he headed home Ryan's cross at the far post. The 'keeper also pulled off a fine stop to deny Matthew Blinkhorn in the closing stages, but Cook was pleased with the point.

"They're a very strong team and anyone that takes points off them this season will be doing well," he said.

The game attracted almost 3,000 people to the Sligo venue, and Cook feels that it was a great advertisement for the season ahead. "I think we should try to get rid of all the negativity and start promoting the league. I thought it was a smashing game," he said.

Sligo rovers -- Brush, Whelan, Peers, Keane, Davoren, McCabe (Marshall 88), Ventre, Ryan (O'Grady 71), Doyle, Blinkhorn, Amond (Doninger 71).

Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus, Flynn, Murray, Price, Murphy, Bradley (Baker 57 (Kavanagh 66)), Rice, Chambers, O'Connor, Dennehy, Barrett (Cahill 83).

Ref -- A Buttimer.

Irish Independent

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