Sunday 25 February 2018

Rogers sees red as Shels stun Saints


AFTER five years in the wilderness, Shelbourne last night returned to the big time after an action-packed FAI Ford Cup semi-final replay at Richmond Park.

The last time the Reds played at Lansdowne Road was the famous night in 2004 when they held Deportivo La Coruna scoreless and dreamed of the Champions League group stages and a future at the top of the Irish football tree.

Seven years on, the club is almost unrecognisable after financial meltdown, relegation and a spell desperately trying -- but so far failing -- to escape the First Division.

The fans who celebrated last night's win over their old foes St Patrick's Athletic felt the weight of history lift off their shoulders.

On Saturday they will return to their bread and butter -- a trip to Salthill Devon as they continue with their latest attempt to secure promotion.

Manager Alan Mathews knows that promotion is the real aim this season, but the big day out against Sligo Rovers at the Aviva Stadium on November 6 is a huge bonus.

The manager -- who guided Longford Town to back-to-back FAI Cups triumphs in 2003 and 2004 -- has had a rough few years himself at Cork City and Drogheda United and, after setting his side up well for both matches against the Saints, he can take great credit for his role in this latest triumph.

St Pat's? Well, their FAI Cup 'hoodoo' will continue into its 51st year. Pete Mahon's men will look back on a night when the referee's decisions didn't go their way.

However, ultimately, the first game last Friday night when they allowed 10-man Shels to come from behind to secure a draw was the one they'll regret.

This time it was the Saints who had a man sent off in the first half when goalkeeper Gary Rogers was harshly dismissed after 28 minutes.

They were 1-0 up at that stage, after Dean Delany spilled David McMillan's header into his own net.

It appeared that Danny North had barged into the Shels goalkeeper, but referee Dave McKeon pointed to the centre circle and the visitors faced an uphill battle.

They got back on level terms in controversial circumstances as the Saints had looked in control until giving away a throw-in near the half-way line.

Ian Ryan stole some yards under the eye of assistant referee Marc Douglas before cutting the sleeping defence open to find Kevin Dawson.

Stephen Bradley appeared to nudge Dawson as he attempted to shoot and the Shels player's momentum took him over the diving Rogers.

Controversy erupted as the goalkeeper was red-carded for his part in the incident. He went off in disbelief, close to tears, and goalscorer McMillan was replaced by Chris Bennion who was sent the wrong way by Dawson's faultless spot-kick.

Buoyant Shels might have gone in front as David Cassidy seized on Brendan McGill's through-ball and shot just wide, before Evan McMillan bravely blocked a goal-bound Philly Hughes effort.

St Pat's made it to half-time level, but parity lasted only three minutes after the break as Hughes fed Cassidy and he looped the ball over Ian Bermingham's head to McGill, who fired a low shot past Bennion.

It could have been over when when McKeon again pointed to the spot, although this time it was far more clear-cut as Shane McFaul hauled Cassidy down in the area.

Up stepped Dawson. Same way, different result as Bennion called his bluff and held the midfielder's effort.

St Pat's raced down the field and almost equalised instantly, Kavanagh feeding Doyle, who reached out and poked the ball goalward only for Delany to make the save.

The home crowd were on their feet as their team found a new lease of life and Mahon sent on striker Ian Daly in place of midfielder McFaul in search of the goal they needed to save their cup dream.

But, although they expended plenty of effort, the 10 men were struggling to produce a real chance and Shels finally killed them off in the last five minutes as Cassidy latched on to a Hughes through-ball and neatly chipped his shot over the on-rushing Bennion.

Bradley smashed a free-kick off the woodwork as Pat's tried in vain to achieve the impossible, but that was all the Saints could muster.

Their long, long wait for FAI Cup glory goes on. And, yet again, managers, players and supporters went home debating a match-changing controversial decision by the man with the whistle.

•The FAI have confirmed that tickets for the FAI Cup final will cost €10 for adults and €5 for children.

ST PATRICK'S ATH -- Rogers; Shortall (Stewart 85), Kenna, E McMillan, Bermingham; D McMillan (Bennion 30), Bradley, McFaul (Daly 64), Doyle; North, Kavanagh.

SHELBOURNE -- Delany; Ryan, Boyle, Paisley, Byrne; McGill, Sullivan (Matthews 85), Dawson, Clancy; Cassidy; Hughes (Gorman 88).

REF -- D McKeon (Dublin)

Irish Independent

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