Shamrock Rovers 1 UCD 0
Shamrock Rovers got their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title charge back on track with a hard-fought win over UCD to go five points clear at the top.
Neil Farrugia’s first half strike secured a crucial three points in front of 2,652 at Tallaght Stadium, as the Hoops stay on course to win a third successive league title.
With just one win in their last three league outings, the pressure was on the champions to get their title run back on track.
Former U-19 Hoop Kian Moore produced several first-class saves to deny Rovers a second, but the champions ground out the victory and go five points clear of second-placed Derry City with six games each remaining.
UCD remain in ninth place following a brave performance, and are one point ahead of Finn Harps, who they meet in the second last game of the season.
Rovers boss Stephen Bradley made one change from Thursday’s frustrating 0-0 draw at Shelbourne, as captain Lee Grace returned from suspension in place of Ronan Finn.
Former Hoop Andy Myler opted for four changes from their 4-1 FAI Cup quarter-final defeat to Treaty United, as Lorcan Healy, Donal Higgins and Alex Nolan replaced Kian Moore, Mark Dignam and Thomas Lonergan.
The champions started brightly, with Ireland international pair Jack Byrne and Graham Burke combining as Byrne fired just over. Sean Kavanagh hit an excellent cross to Burke moments later, but the 28-year-old guided his header well wide.
The hosts had full control in the opening stages and took a deserved lead on 13 minutes through Farrugia. Rory Gaffney played a fine one-two with Kavanagh, before his drilled cross found Player of the Match Farrugia, who shrugged off Evan Osam to tap in his third goal in as many league games.
Burke’s effort from distance was well saved by Healy at his near post, before Dylan Duffy produced a huge block to deny Rovers a second on the half hour mark. Farrugia embarked on a winding run, and cut inside to play a beautiful through ball to Gaffney, but Healy stood tall to deny the effort with his head, before requiring medical treatment.
Minutes later Dylan Watts forced a smart save from Healy low to his right. Just two half chances fell to the visitors in the first half, with Duffy and Donal Higgins shooting wide of Mannus’ goal late on.
After the break, Moore replaced Healy who appeared to suffer an injury preventing Gaffney’s effort. After a superb run by Gaffney, the ball dropped to Kavanagh who saw his snapshot superbly stopped by Moore.
Burke’s strike found the back of the net on 55 minutes, but the offside flag denied him a ninth goal of the season. Moore produced another stunning stop to deny Farrugia a second, before Cleary saw his header loop over the crossbar.
Rovers goalkeeper Mannus, who was a spectator for most of the contest, was alert to Duffy’s spectacular effort on 62 minutes, clawing the ball over the bar to keep the scores level.
Burke’s ambitious chip sailed just wide on 75 minutes, before Greene drilled his effort just wide. Rovers turned the screw in the closing stages, but the visitors defended strongly to keep the score to a minimum. The champions were made to work for it, but saw out the win to take a step closer to another league title.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Gannon, Grace, Cleary; Farrugia, Watts (Lennox 90), O’Neill (Greene 64), Kavanagh; Byrne, Gaffney, Burke (Finn 84).
UCD: Healy (Moore 46); Dunne (Gallagher 75), Keaney, Todd, Osam; Nolan (O’Connor 83), Caffrey, Brennan, Keane, Higgins (Haist 69); Duffy.
Referee: K O’Sullivan.