Red-hot Towell wipes the floor with ragged Rovers
SHAMROCK ROVERS 1 DUNDALK 2
ON a night when their performance was poor – and their decision-making even worse – Shamrock Rovers' defence of the Setanta Cup suffered a major blow.
Totally outplayed in the first half, when Dundalk's midfield leader Richie Towell further enhanced his growing reputation, Rovers showed considerably more bite in the second .
Yet it had a limited effect. And while they scored a late consolation and still have a second leg to correct matters, it is hard to see how they, rather than Dundalk, will advance to this year's final.
The Louth side, quite simply, were much better here, their victory explained firstly by Towell's dominant performance, and secondly by the rash challenges both Craig Hyland and Conor Kenna made when John Mountney went charging at them in the penalty area.
Each time, illegal contact was made. Each time a penalty was rewarded and each time Towell converted, the first goal coming after 10 minutes, the second after 34. While those incidents highlighted a lack of thought on Rovers' behalf, the intelligence of Dundalk's performance cannot be underestimated.
They were tactically astute – their positioning of Chris Shields as an additional shield for the defence proved crucial, nullifying the threat Rovers typically produce from midfield. Significantly, they also tinkered with their game-plan when the second goal went in, ensuring a solid defensive shape remained in place throughout the second half.
They needed it too because Rovers charged at them – driven on by the substitutes Ronan Finn and Gary McCabe.
Yet while Rovers played better in that second half, they still could have lost by more – especially when Towell's angled pass found David McMillan on the edge of the Rovers box, from where his low shot was blocked by Hyland. Sub Pat Hoban then missed an easier chance, sidefooting Ruaidhri Higgins' cross wide.
They may yet live to regret that moment because with six minutes remaining, Rovers got a goal back, Eamon Zayed scoring when he converted McCabe's cross from the left.
Shamrock Rovers – Hyland; Madden, Kenna, Cornwall, Byrne; Robinson (Brennan 83), Bayly, O'Connor; Kelly (Finn 45), Zayed, Sheppard (McCabe 58).
Dundalk – Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields; O'Donnell (Higgins 52), Towell, Mountney (Meehan 80), Byrne; McMillan (Hoban 68).
Ref – P Tuite (Dublin)