Dennehy puts early dent in Bohs' title ambitions
SHAMROCK RVS 1 BOHEMIANS 0
THEIR ultimate aim this season is a third successive league title but, in Tallaght last night, Bohemians notched up the three in a row which they were desperate to avoid.
Much has been made of Shamrock Rovers' stuttering form on their own turf in this new campaign, yet their arch rivals have far worse memories from this venue. And, after a double loss here in 2009, Bohs succumbed again on an evening where the Hoops finally started to look like a side capable of mustering another tilt at the crown. Billy Dennehy, who derailed their league bid wearing Cork colours last October, picked the right time to make an impression for his new employers.
A surprise comeback for second-half substitute Gary Twigg, returning after surgery on both calves, added to the morale-boosting element of this derby for the home followers. The challenge for their side now is to match this level of intensity in the coming weeks after a series of lethargic performances before this encounter.
In reality, this was also tame enough fare until the decisive goal seven minutes shy of the interval managed to inject life into a game that is an important showcase for the League of Ireland.
Prior to that, it had been desperately disjointed with little by way of excitement at either end of the pitch and hopeful long balls the order of the day. Rovers, with lone frontman Thomas Stewart, were particularly culpable early on, with centre-halves Aidan Price and Dan Murray opting for the unimaginative rather than attempting to make use of the extra man in midfield.
That said, the numerical advantage Michael O'Neill's side possessed in that department allowed them to squeeze Bohs, who never succeeded in relaxing. Raff Cretaro, in for Paddy Madden, began to drop a bit deeper in a bid to get involved, but it was a struggle for both teams. A Ken Oman header was touched over by Rovers 'keeper Alan Mannus, and Killian Brennan was off target from a Jason Byrne floater yet, on another night, they were opportunities that would barely warrant post-match mention.
And then Rovers struck. A long throw from Stephen Rice found the advanced Price. He was stronger than Oman and flicked on for Dennehy, whose downward nod outfoxed Bohs 'keeper Chris O'Connor who was left flat-footed as the ball trickled into the bottom corner for the first Hoops goal in Tallaght this year.
They could have added another in a frantic period before the break, with Bohs pressed back towards their own area by their buoyant rivals. Brennan, who frustrated his manager with some pedestrian touches in the first half and was withdrawn at the interval, at least made one notable contribution in getting back to clear when the impressive James Chambers, floating in behind Stewart, outmuscled Powell and teased a delivery into the danger zone.
Bohs regrouped and re-emerged with Mark Quigley sent into the fray in a wide berth. He barely had time to work up a sweat before his midfield colleague, Paul Keegan, saw a powerful header cleared off the line by Danny Murphy with Mannus beaten.
Pat Fenlon's charges were generating some momentum, with a Price interception from Byrne saving Murray's blushes after a clearance was blocked down before tenacious midfielder Rice was forced off when appearing to damage ankle ligaments in a freak collision.
However, while the Bohs manager was happy with the work rate of his players, he can't have been too thrilled by the quality of their final ball. The physical Rovers rearguard can occasionally be sluggish on their feet, with a Cretaro through ball for Keegan emphasising that, although Mannus was alert to the subsequent strike.
Alas, the league champions were unable to penetrate consistently as they went in search of a point with Rovers continuing to hassle and harry and Chris Turner, such a disappointment in his Bohs days, demonstrating why O'Neill was prepared to wait for his signature over the winter.
Fenlon brought in Paddy Madden as an extra striker, and Quigley roved in desperate search of a break. The problem for the Gypsies was that the ex-St Pats man was forced closer to his own goal than the one guarded by Mannus in search of any sort of space.
Consequently, the best Bohs could muster was a half chance for Byrne in the five minutes of injury-time, which sailed high and wide like his penalty in the last meeting between the sides here. They will need to be sharper if they are to secure the hat-trick they really desire.
Shamrock Rovers -- Mannus, Flynn (O'Connor 75), Price, Murray, Murphy; Dennehy, Chambers, Rice (Bayly 60), Turner, Cahill (Twigg 72); Stewart.
Bohemians -- O'Connor, Shelley, Heary (Madden 81), Oman, Powell; McGlynn, Keegan, Cronin (Higgins 85), Brennan (Quigley 45); Cretaro, Byrne.
Ref -- A Kelly (Cork).