O'Neill despondent as Rovers let it slip
Shamrock Rvs 1
Sporting Fingal 2
MICHAEL O'NEILL'S immediate post-match reaction to Shamrock Rovers' catastrophic defeat by Sporting Fingal at Tallaght Stadium on Saturday was as brutal as you could imagine from a manager whose team had thrown away control of a title race.
After Thomas Stewart's first-half tap-in put the Hoops in control, they wasted a series of opportunities, culminating in Chris Turner hitting the crossbar with a penalty.
With just three minutes left, Rovers still led but then Aidan Price's hesitancy in his own penalty area allowed Gary O'Neill to nip in and flick the ball over Alan Mannus for the equaliser.
And it got worse for Rovers when Glen Crowe snatched a winner in the 90th minute with a shot that deflected off Price to wrong-foot Mannus.
Suddenly, Rovers went from having a two-point lead over Bohemians at the top of the table with two games left to trailing their fierce rivals by a point.
"We committed suicide," lamented O'Neill. "We should have gone 2-0 ahead but our decision-making was wrong.
"I have a lot of anger at the moment, because I feel for the players. To go 34 games and put themselves in the position we were in and now to find ourselves needing someone to do us a favour is hard to take.
"They have been magnificent players to work with and they deserve better than that.
"But it's our own fault. The harsh reality of football is that, if you make mistakes, more often than not you will be punished. People could say we don't deserve it because of that. In recent weeks the mistakes we have made -- against UCD and this game in particular -- have hurt us badly."
Shamrock Rovers began nervously and Crowe missed a great chance to put the visitors ahead after eight minutes. Stewart settled the nerves when he tapped the ball into an empty net five minutes later after being set up Gary Twigg.
Fingal produced plenty of measured football but had to defend for long periods as Stephen Rice's wind-assisted throw-ins got the ball into their danger area on a regular basis.
Rovers were denied a second goal just before the break when Craig Sives had a goal-bound shot blocked by Lorcan Fitzgerald.
Twigg should have put Rovers two up just two minutes into the second half after being put through by Chris Turner, but his attempted lob went straight into the arms of advancing goalkeeper Brendan Clarke.
But then, on 62 minutes, referee Declan Hanney pointed to the penalty spot, controversially adjudging that Sporting Fingal goalkeeper Clarke had taken down Turner as the Rovers midfielder raced on to a return pass from Stewart.
This, surely, would provide the clinching goal, but Turner's spot-kick came back flush off the crossbar and was cleared to safety.
The visitors had plenty of possession but had not created much until Price's indecision allowed O'Neill to sneak in and level the match in the 87th minute.
That goal deflated the previously buoyant mood of the home supporters and the atmosphere turned funeral-like when Crowe's deflected effort snatched all three points for the visitors in the 90th minute to sink Rovers.
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Mannus; Flynn, Sives, Price, Stevens, Chambers, Rice, Turner, Dennehy, Stewart, Twigg.
SPORTING FINGAL -- Clarke; O'Brien, Hawkins (Kirby 76), Browne, Fitzgerald (Cahill 82), Byrne, Finn, McFaul, Williams, O'Neill, Crowe.
REF -- D Hanney (Dublin).