Saturday 24 March 2018

Stewart brace puts Saints to the sword

St Pat's Athletic 1
Shamrock Rovers 2


AT THE beginning of last month, a dismayed Michael O'Neill wondered out loud whether his side had "committed some dastardly crime", referring to the strong reaction to their woeful start to the season.

While the idea that they were being portrayed as criminals was a little strong, the boos that rang around Tallaght early in the season have certainly been proven misguided.

They were never criminals, but this Shamrock Rovers side is now certainly one to be feared.

Last night, as their rivals struggled across the Liffey against small-timers UCD, the supposed sinners took the league-leading Saints to the cleaners in a performance that will have all of their potential challengers shaking in their boots.

They did concede late on to a cracking Alex Williams free-kick, but while they endured a shaky couple of minutes of injury-time, their fifth victory of the season rarely looked in doubt at Richmond Park. The damage was done after they had torn the best defence in the league to shreds, even afforded the luxury of a missed penalty to record an eighth successive match without defeat.

While their regular hero Gary Twigg took a place on the bench, it was another left-footed poacher in Thomas Stewart, who took the limelight last night with two clinically dispatched finishes either side of half-time.

They were the two best defences in the league prior to this Dublin derby, and while the Saints' record was more impressive, having conceded two goals in 10, it was the visitors' back four that was much more at ease in the opening half.

Just two minutes in, Gary Rogers had to be at his best to tip a Dan Murray header wide after his former Cork City colleague Danny Murphy whipped in from a short corner.

And 10 minutes later, James Chambers came close to breaking the deadlock when his header from another whipped Murphy cross struck the upright.

It wasn't the last time that the woodwork would foil the former Drogheda United man. Just as the game was fizzling out midway through the half, it was sparked to life when Patrick Kavanagh was nudged in the box by Damien Lynch -- who was having an uncomfortable night at left-back.

Chambers stepped up, having dispatched two already from the spot this season, but his effort crashed the inside of Rogers' left-hand post and went clear.

The vociferous travelling support fell silent for the first time but just three minutes later they were sent into raptures thanks to lone striker Stewart, looking a much sharper figure than the man who arrived into an injury-stricken squad at the start of April.

The former Derry hitman hammered the ball into the near post with his much left boot.

Stewart was testing Saints' offside trap time and time again as he played off the last man, and he doubled the advantage 14 minutes after the interval when he evaded the linesman's flag and thumped the ball low past Rogers.

Just before the end, Williams stroked home a superb free-kick, but it was too little too late for the Inchicore outfit as were joined at the table's summit by Dundalk.

ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC -- Rogers; Pender, Kenna, Guthrie, Lynch; McAllister, Byrne (Cash 63), Mulcahy, Guy (Doyle 81); Byrne (Williams 70), Faherty.

SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Mannus, Flynn, Price, Murray, Murphy; Kavanagh (Twigg 69), Rice, Chambers, Bayly, Dennehy (Cahill 77); Stewart (Baker 85).

REF -- D McKeon (Meath).

Irish Independent

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