Relief for Croly as Sheriff shot down
Shamrock Rvs 3 Sheriff YC 1
Perhaps it is a sign of these disturbing times that a match against non-league opposition had taken on season-defining importance for Shamrock Rovers.
A disappointing league campaign packed with draws has been brightened somewhat by lengthy runs in the Setanta and EA Sports Cups, but Sheriff YC entered Tallaght Stadium with serious pedigree in knock-out competitions themselves.
Two successive triumphs in the bear pit of the FAI Junior Cup had the visitors quietly confident of adding another layer of misery to a pitiful few weeks for the Hoops, who have slipped badly off the title pace.
So the FAI Cup, a trophy Rovers haven't gleaned since 1987, is placed high on the priority list and while last night's performance was mixed, all that truly mattered was the end result.
Rovers booked their place in the quarter-finals, but manager Trevor Croly won't take much else comfort when reflecting on this strange clash.
Nifty for 21 minutes in which two goals were pocketed, it somehow turned into an uncomfortable evening for Rovers, who were fortunate that it took Sheriff an age to settle. Sheriff departed nursing some regrets because had they been switched on a tad earlier a shock could have occurred.
It was far from convincing from Rovers, but they just about had the craft to eke out a victory in front of the disgruntled natives.
Under duress, Rovers knew the value a positive start could bring and there was a crispness to the locals' passing initially. Richie Ryan sat in the centre of the park pulling the strings, allowing Shane Robinson and Ronan Finn venture forward to influence the game.
With a decent tempo set, Rovers hit the front courtesy of a sharp ninth-minute goal from Tommy Stewart, with Conor Powell and Gary McCabe heavily involved in the creation.
Sheriff were plucky and John Lester did drill a long range attempt narrowly over on a trip into Rovers territory. Still the Hoops had the ability to retain possession and Finn was denied a second by a brave Joseph O'Neill block.
Probing and getting some joy down the left where Powell was scheming smartly, Rovers scored again in the 21st minute. Powell located Mark Quigley and his delicious flick released Robinson, who had timed his run from deep expertly.
Visiting custodian Austin O'Neill advanced, but Robinson had the guile to convert with the minimum of fuss. Suddenly Sheriff were dealing in damage limitation, but they dug in, and the Hoops bizarrely became agitated.
Eager to avoid a humiliation, Sheriff did cause Rovers some problems with the industrious Lester chalking up a high tackle count, and Stephen Murphy prominent. Worryingly, though, Sheriff rarely troubled Barry Murphy, who dealt with all the routine situations adequately.
When Murphy's reflexes were examined in the 41st minute he was able to make a fingertip save to thwart Darren Dunne's stinging drive. Murphy's splendid cameo meant that Rovers, who had been shaky as the interval approached, went in protecting a two-goal lead.
That was trimmed 11 minutes after the restart when the increasingly effective Lester floated an inviting delivery into the area and John Rock obliged with a headed goal. The dwindling home support were anxious, the players were ruffled, and the issue was delicately poised once more.
But Rovers, craving a lucky break, got one on 65 minutes when a Murphy kick-out spilled kindly for substitute Karl Sheppard, who was fouled by goalkeeper O'Neill. Quigley assumed responsibility, making no mistake from the resultant spot-kick to avert another crisis.
Shamrock Rovers – Murphy; McCormack, Foran, McGuinness, Powell; Robinson, Ryan (Chambers, 83), Finn; McCabe (Sheppard, 57), Quigley (Zayed, 84), Stewart.
Sheriff YC – A O'Neill; McDermott (Larkin, 69), Murphy, J O'Neill; Lester; Sean Murphy, Dunne, Stephen Murphy, Lynch (Browne, 60); Kane (McCabe, 60), Rock.
Ref – R Harvey (Dublin)