Shamrock Rovers 0
Sligo Rovers 1
YOU WAIT 20 months for a Shamrock Rovers defeat and two come along in the space of four days, with this 1-0 loss at home to Sligo Rovers doubly significant for costing them their spot at the top of the league.
Instead it is Liam Buckley’s side who now sit a point clear at the summit, thanks to a win delivered by a second-half Romeo Parkes’ strike. This was a fabulously recalcitrant performance by Sligo away to the champions: physical and committed, their attitude was encapsulated in the performance of Greg Bolger, who played as if seeking to show Shamrock Rovers what they have been missing.
And Stephen Bradley’s side are missing a lot at the moment, with seven first-teamers out through injury.
Those injury problems did not abate this evening, either: while Chris McCann was fit enough to return to the bench, they lost Joey O’Brien after only seven minutes. The absences of Ronan Finn and Dylan Watts forced Danny Mandroiu – today selected in the Irish senior squad for the first time – to reprise the deeper role he performed against Dundalk.
Mandroiu’s playing deeper blunted much of Rovers’ attacking incision, and instead the tone of the opening stages was set by Bolger, who flew into tackles, barked orders, and – in a first half of painfully few chances – flashed a long-range shot wide of Alan Mannus’ left-hand post.
Forced out of their regular shape, Shamrock Rovers didn’t pose the central threat they usually do, so instead did their best work through Sean Gannon on the right flank, and he saw a rasping shot bounce off John Mahon and skid wide of – though unnervingly close to – the post.
Sligo created nothing of note in the first half, though a more nimble Romeo Parkes would have punished a sloppy Roberto Lopes error in the penalty area, as he miscontrolled a pass and could sigh with relief when it narrowly evaded Parkes in the six-yard box.
If Parkes’ languor in front of goal cost him on that occasion, it worked in his favour nine minutes after the break. The terrific Jordan Gibson sucked up a loose Liam Scales header in midfield, dallied and then prodded the ball through the backtracking Shamrock Rovers defence. Having been deemed onside as he strode onto the pass, Parkes loped forward and took his sweet time before slotting the ball cooly beyond Alan Mannus.
As to whether Parkes was actually onside was the subject of some consternation, and some amateur VAR in the press box didn’t exactly put it beyond reasonable doubt.
Shamrock Rovers had started the second half with renewed intent, but their pushing up also served to accentuate Sligo’s threat on the break. A Shamrock Rovers corner – won through neat interplay between Gannon and Mandroiu – led to Graham Burke’s being dispossessed and Sligo flying forward, with Gibson weaving into the box and firing narrowly wide from Bolger’s pass.
One of the champions’ strengths this season has been their rapid responses the concession of goals, but it took them until almost the 80th minute for them to panic Ed McGinty. Aaron Greene – shifted to left wing-back when the early substitute Max Murphy was subbed himself – pinged a gorgeous crossfield pass to Graham Burke, who cut inside and sent a shot whistling by the far post.
The onslaught never arrived, however, and Sligo closed the game out with a degree of comfort.
of the team
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Where art thou Romeo? Top of the league.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Gannon; Joey O’Brien (Max Murphy, 7′, Den Williams, 78′) Roberto Lopes (captain), Lee Grace; Liam Scales; Gary O’Neill (Chris McCann, 69′), Danny Mandroiu, Graham Burke; Aaron Greene, Rory Gaffney
Sligo Rovers: Ed McGinty; Lewis Banks, Garry Buckley, John Mahon, Niall Morahan, Robbie McCourt; Mark Byrne (Johnny Kenny, 67′), Greg Bolger (captain), Niall Morahan, Walter Figueria; Jordan Gibson, Romeo Parkes (Ryan De Vries, 86′)
Referee: Neil Doyle