No joy for title chasers in Tallaght struggle
Shamrock Rovers 0 Dundalk 0
IT was billed, in some quarters, as a game that neither side could afford to lose. But the lessons of last term have tested the definition of a good point.
Dundalk are on a mission to regain their title from Cork City, while Shamrock Rovers are trying to break into that equation, but this result leaves both sides without a win this term.
Granted, it’s preposterously early to be speaking in dramatic terms, yet both of these sides were left trailing by sluggish starts 12 months ago. With Cork already on the winning trail, they need to get motoring.
This was a game, however, which suggested that both sides are a work in progress, although the extent of that progress is a matter of debate.
Promising passages of play were combined with tardiness, and it’s still difficult to really nail down what the respective protagonists’ strongest side might be.
Rovers did succeed in tightening things up somewhat following their chaotic collapse to Bohemians on the opening day, but that could as easily be attributed to Dundalk’s lack of fluency in the final third.
This was their first scoreless draw on the road since Stephen Kenny assumed control in 2013 and aligned with the opening-day stalemate against Bray, it’s clear to see that the departures of David McMillan and Patrick McEleney have really affected the Louthmen.
Kenny has gone shopping in that department but the arrivals are still finding their way and he shuffled his options across the 90 without ever really finding the right formula. The best chance of the game was squandered by Patrick Hoban before he was replaced.
Both managers trialled new central defensive partnerships, with ex-Liverpool man Daniel Cleary called into the Dundalk team next to another winter recruit, Stephen Folan.
Roberto Lopes paid the penalty for his errors in the derby defeat to Bohemians, with Stephen Bradley moving Scot Ally Gilchrist in next to Lee Grace with Luke Byrne recalled from injury at left-back.
The growing pains were evidenced by a near comical concession from the hosts when Gilchrist stroked a back-pass beyond incandescent advancing goalkeeper Kevin Horgan who had to sprinted back to prevent an embarrassing own goal.
That came just after Hoops winger Brandon Miele struck the post from distance.
Rovers did have less of the ball, but they were slightly more incisive in forward areas when they eventually got the ball down with Graham Burke teeing up some reasonable crossing opportunities.
But those moments were rare enough and holding midfielder Greg Bolger was visibly frustrated at one more point at the absence of composure leading to some hurried clearances from behind that gave Dundalk the ball.
Michael Duffy was prominent on Dundalk’s left side, giving Ethan Boyle a torrid time, and Robbie Benson was lively breaking from his central berth. But their end product was limited enough, with the best chance before the interval culminating in Cleary firing over when Horgan flapped a cross into his direction.
Hoban was selected to lead the line, but still has a bit of work to do to reach his peak condition after a stop-start couple of years in the UK. His contribution ended before the hour mark, dragging the ball wide of the post following a through ball from Benson. He had plenty of time to pick his spot.
That cleared the path for the introduction of Nigerian-Italian Marco Tagbajumi who only signed in midweek, a reflection that the pieces of the jigsaw are still only falling into place. Rovers new arrival Sean Kavanagh was drafted in for a debut too, with the natives conscious of the speedy service offered by Dylan Connolly on the right.
He’s short of confidence right now, though, and Hungarian playmaker Krisztian Adorjan appears to be getting to grips with his surroundings too. Rovers’ English attacker Dan Carr was bright and the sub tried to shift the attention to the other end of the park, but Dundalk continued to have more of the ball without threatening to do all that much with it.
It meant the 4,000 crowd were starved of real talking points with a certain inevitability about the final quarter of this game. The battles between these sides last year were spicy affairs full of bite, but this turned out to be a bit of a phoney war.
Shamrock Rovers – Horgan, Boyle, Grace, Gilchrist, Byrne; Bolger, McAllister; Coustrain (Kavanagh 80), Burke, Miele; Shaw (Carr 70)
Dundalk – Rogers, Gannon, Folan, Cleary, Massey; Shields, Benson; McGrath (Adorjan 73), Murray (Connolly 55), Duffy; Hoban (Tagbajumi 61)
REF – N Doyle (Dublin)