Rovers send out signal of title intent
Shamrock Rovers 3 St Patrick's Ath 0
THESE protagonists are more than familiar with each other, but it was out-of-character defending from St Patrick's Athletic that put a surprisingly emphatic look on the scoreline.
Shamrock Rovers boss Trevor Croly was assistant in Inchicore last year, a campaign where a title challenge was built on a solid rearguard.
Liam Buckley lost three players to Croly, but he managed to hold onto his preferred back four. Their tardiness played a significant part in the outcome, although there is no disputing that the hosts were the superior side.
The Rovers manager rotated his options after Monday's Setanta Cup trip to Linfield, and will be pleased that they produced a coherent performance.
They forged ahead in the 19th minute with a strike that just about summed up the Saints' evening.
Kenny Browne and Ian Bermingham contrived to make a routine clearance very complicated by getting in each other's way as they chased back to collect an inaccurate pass. As they floundered, Ronan Finn sauntered past to collect the ball and send in a cross that was confidently converted by the head of Ciaran Kilduff.
The Hoops had started brightly on a pitch where the going was soft, particularly around the centre of the park. It caused problems, although the Saints did manage to put together some decent spells of passing as half-time approached. The problem was that they struggled to get bodies into the box to greet some dangerous deliveries.
Killian Brennan, who was given licence to roam in midfield, threatened with a corner kick that almost dropped under the bar, with Barry Murphy punching to safety. Chris Forrester did have one shot blocked but the talented playmaker was unable to affect the game from the left flank and was withdrawn shortly after the interval in the minutes after the Hoops doubled their lead.
A good number of the crowd missed the goal as they were returning to their seats, and visiting 'keeper Brendan Clarke didn't appear to be expecting it either as he was caught off balance when Gary McCabe pounced on a clearance from Conor Kenna and powered a left footer goalwards. Clarke misjudged the swerve and was beaten too easily.
It left Buckley's side with no option but to go for it, and he utilised his bench accordingly, sending Conor Murphy, Greg Bolger and Jake Carroll into the fray. As the minutes ticked by, the Hoops dropped deeper and soaked up pressure.
They stoutly dealt with a series of set-pieces, but it was inevitable that they would give away a chance. Ultimately, it fell to Saints centre-half Kenna, who was spending more time as an attacker and almost set up a grandstand finish 10 minutes from time with a nod towards the bottom corner that was brilliantly saved by Murphy's outstretched hand.
Rovers responded by extinguishing any hope of a comeback, although they were given help in this mission by a Carroll error that allowed Gary McCabe to advance and unselfishly square for Finn.
After that it was a coast to the finish line, with the fans singing about this Monday's showdown with Bohemians. Croly and Buckley shook hands at the final whistle, but it's the latter that will have more to ponder ahead of their joust with Shelbourne on Tuesday.
Shamrock Rovers – Murphy, Sullivan, McGuinness, Foran, Powell; Chambers (McCormack 71), Robinson, Finn; McCabe, Kilduff (Dennehy 85), O'Connor (Stewart 66).
St Patrick's Athletic – Clarke, O'Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; McFaul, Russell (Bolger 61), Brennan; Byrne (Carroll 71), Fagan, Forrester (Murphy 51).
Ref – P Tuite (Dublin)