Saturday 17 March 2018

Uninspired Rovers fail to find their feet

St Pat's Athletic 0
Shamrock Rvs 0

Stephen Bradley of St Patrick's Athletic challenges Ronan Finn of Shamrock Rovers during their game at Richmond Park last night. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile
Stephen Bradley of St Patrick's Athletic challenges Ronan Finn of Shamrock Rovers during their game at Richmond Park last night. Photo: David Maher / Sportsfile

Miguel Delaney

A point earned, but not exactly proven for Shamrock Rovers. Given the tough series of games last night's trip to Richmond Park was part of -- as well as the fact they've got a Setanta Cup final on Saturday -- this can understandably be considered another test passed.

But not a case of any testing passes. There were few of those on show in a largely dire game.

Indeed, last night's hard-fought stalemate provided further evidence for those who feel the champions are wasting their resources with overly direct football.

That very debate, of course, is probably more a reflection of the absence of any credible challenger as yet in the league as opposed to Rovers themselves.

The feeling remains that it's only a matter of time until they streak away. And better that they at least do so in a stylish manner, given their obvious quality.

But, back when Michael O'Neill's side were getting their title defence under way in March, Arsene Wenger was directing bitter barbs towards Barcelona about "sterile domination". At the moment, that seems most applicable at Tallaght.

Certainly, in Inchicore last night, there was little football played in the first half. Of the little that was, Pat's produced the majority.

Indeed, it wasn't until the 35th minute that the champions attempted their first genuine passing move. Ronan Finn, Gary McCabe and Gary O'Neill played an intricate interchange on the edge of the Pat's box before Derek Pender intercepted superbly.

Either side of that, Alan Mannus had to gather an ambitious Derek Doyle overhead kick and -- much more demandingly -- palm away a cross destined for Daryl Kavanagh's right boot and the back of the net.

Moments later, Brian Shorthall finally had the beating of the Rovers 'keeper, but his header was cleared off the line by McCabe. It was telling, however, that all of those chances came from aerial attacks. That was basically the story of a first half in which we saw a lot more physicality than finesse.

For this, St Patrick's Athletic can be forgiven. Having found their feet lately with the right formation and three wins on the trot, they were more concerned with standing their ground here.

Occasionally, of course, that involved going to ground. And robustly. The game was marked by tough tackles.

But the worst thing about that was that the battle the match became had a clear effect on the genuine flair players.

Both Finn and Kavanagh found themselves redundant in the midst of a ruck. And it meant that, when they did get the ball, they were too rusty to make the best of it.

That was particularly evident with Kavanagh either side of half-time. Before the interval, he rushed a through-pass when a break presented itself.

After it, he over-hit the ball in a similar position with the kind of leaden touch that has been totally uncharacteristic of his season.

At the other end, Finn connected beautifully with a half-volley but not enough to trouble Gary Rogers.

As the second half progressed, there was still an awful lot more noise than poise. Too often, both sides would attempt an over-hit ball forward or a hopeful cross.

Rovers' best opportunity of the second period came from a deflection that almost dipped under the bar. It would have epitomised a largely dismal game.

For all neutrals will moan, however, Pat's keep a good run of results going and Rovers keep the initiative. It just would have been a lot more pleasing had they occasionally taken it last night.

ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC -- Rogers; Pender, Bermingham, Shorthall, McMillan; Bradley (capt), Crowley (Stewart 65), Kavanagh, Doyle; North (McMillan 87), Murphy.

SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Mannus; Sullivan, Stevens, Murray (capt), Flynn; McCormack, Rice (Dennehy 60), Sheppard, Finn, McCabe (Kavanagh 60); O'Neill (Kilduff 75).

REF -- D Hancock (Dublin).

Irish Independent

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