Spot-on Saints strike first blow in big week
Shamrock Rovers 0-0 St Patrick’s Athletic (St Pat's win 4-2 on penalties)
Friday’s league meeting in Tallaght may be more significant in terms of the broader picture, but this was a sweet win for St Patrick’s Athletic.
They booked their place in the final of the EA Sports Cup after prevailing in a penalty shootout that provided some drama after 120 scoreless minutes.
Both managers felt that their team had enough chances to win this match, although Saints boss Liam Buckley could argue that his team applied a greater amount of pressure.
It was calmness from the spot that settled it with new recruit Ian Morris firing home the decisive kick as the Saints came from behind.
Killian Brennan had ballooned heir first penalty way over the bar but that was cancelled out when stand-in ‘keeper Conor O’Malley saved from Mikey Drennan.
The wind that played havoc with the game tormented Hoops defender Dave O’Connor with the ball blowing from the spot on several occasions before his effort against the post cleared the path for Morris to settle it.
With €12,500 on offer to the winners of the EA Sports Cup and €200,000 on offer for European qualification, their second showdown at this venue later this week will be of more concern to the respective accountants. As it stands, they are joint third.
Still, Buckley was clearly happy to get one over his employers’ South Dublin neighbours. “We’re in the final and it’s there to be won,” he stressed.
He had made a statement of intent by fielding a strong side relative to his preferred league selection. Rovers, by contrast, made seven changes from the team which took full points from Drogheda on Friday.
With the backing of a substantial breeze, it was no great surprise that the visitors gradually came to the fore after a rocky opening when Hoops starlet Cian Kavanagh lacked conviction when presented with space to shoot inside 30 seconds by the ponderous O’Malley.
Rovers then created the first real gilt-edged chance when Kieran Marty Waters fluffed his lines after doing the hard part. “If we’d taken our chances early on, we’d have won the game,” sighed Fenlon.
The Saints exerted pressure, but threatened from distance with Barry Murphy keeping out accurate strikes from Chris Forrester and Brennan. His stop to deny Forrester was from the top drawer, pushing a terrific right-footed curling effort onto the crossbar.
Woodwork was a theme of the half with Saints centre-half Lee Desmond finding it from close range before Drennan did the same at the other end.
The second half was desperately disappointing, with a sense that this game was destined to go the distance.
Saints’ midfielder James Chambers blasted over twice in the dying stages of the 90 minutes as Buckley’s men emerged from a quiet spell. Drennan, moved out wide after the arrival of Danny North, dragged a Rovers opportunity to win it wide of the post.
Chambers wandered into another promising position in the first period of extra-time with Murphy alert to block his shot after Jamie McGrath’s trickery carved open Rovers.
The Saints were also more dangerous in the final 15, with O’Connor racing back to clear a goalbound Conan Byrne chip off the line. In the end, the profligacy didn’t matter.
“We don’t seem to be getting any credit for playing young players,” said Fenlon, “Everybody else seems to be getting it but, no, I was delighted with them today, It will be a great experience for them.”
His focus immediately switched to Friday. “I’ve said to the players in there that it’s a bigger game and we’ve got to go and win it now and start beating the teams around us,” asserted Fenlon.
That fixture that was originally pencilled in as a target for Damien Duff’s debut but he won’t be fit. Keith Fahey and Stephen McPhail also remain sidelined.
“The boys won’t be back,” said Fenlon, “I’ve just left them with the physios and let them work away. They’re all sort of back doing pitch work at the moment but it will be up to Tony McCarthy (physio).
“When he tells me they’re ready, they’ll be coming back in but otherwise we won’t be taking any risks. You don’t want to be forcing them back and losing them for a long period. They’ve got to be 100pc right.”
Shamrock Rovers – Murphy, Madden, Blanchard, O’Connor, Byrne; R Brennan, McCabe; Waters (G Brennan 103), C Kavanagh (Miele 66), D Kavanagh (North 80); Drennan.
St Patrick’s Athletic – O’Malley, O’Brien, Browne, Desmond, Bermingham; Bolger (Morris 105); Byrne, Chambers, Brennan, Forrester (Greene 87); McGrath (Langley 111)
Ref – P Tuite (Dublin)