Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fulltime Draw

Shamrock Rovers - six games without a win - this after a start which produced wins at Drogheda and Galway, a draw in Cork and victory over Bray Wanderers. Derry City - four games without a League goal - this after a start which saw them take maximum points from Drogheda United and St. Pats, while securing a draw in Cork.

So where better to spend a balmy Friday evening than at Tolka Park watching two out of form sides attempt to reignite their flailing fortunes? That is a rhetorical question. There is still plenty of optimism around Shamrock Rovers - even if all is not living up to expectations on the field of play, there is good news off it. News that there will be a bevy of bum cleavage around the Tallaght Stadium from May 12th has clearly excited Hoops supporters; that energy was palpable as the newly inducted mascots shook hands with sundry and all as both sets of players went through their prematch routines.

There were several changes to Pat Scully's first eleven - some forced - others chosen. With hari-kari defender Pat Flynn ruled out through a self-inflicted suspension and Danny O'Connor failing a fitness test, it fell upon the relatively untried shoulders of Corey Treacy to defend Rovers' left flank. Tadhg Purcell was another absentee; Eoin Doyle stepped into his boots to partner Padraig Amond up front. Stephen Rice was moved onto the right hand side of midfield, with Darragh Maguire protecting the silken touch of Eric McGill in the centre. The erratic endeavours of Sean O'Connor were consigned to the bench as David Tyrell made his seasonal bow; taking up a position ahead of fellow debutant Treacy. Barry Ferguson was ushered in to partner the recuperating Aidan Price at centre half. Elsewhere Ger O'Brien and Barry Murphy filled their customary roles.

The visitors were recognisable, if not at full strength. Pat McCourt's absence is always a boon to the opposition; Owen Morrisson filled the wide left berth, with Niall McGinn wearing his L plates - I think they're called P plates in Sterlingland - on the opposite line. Connor Sammon was partnered by Mark Farren in the place they call up top. With Ciaran Martyn still ruled out, it was Ruairdhi Higgins who provided City's fulcrum alongside Barry Molloy. Eddie McCallion was taking up space on the bench; Gareth McGlynn was taking up his position on the grass. Delaney, Hutton, Gray and Doherty were in their established positions.

7.58pm - enter the gladiators - Scully gets a good reception from the loyals. The prematch niceties must be completed before Alan Kelly permits the game to get underway. Stephen Kenny's wingers are walking the chalk. McGinn tests Treacy with an early probe; the full-back seems about to fail his early examination, but recovers well to eliminate the threat. The opening forays consist of speculative efforts at either end as both sides enjoy a good feel. Amond's close range effort is driven low and hard, but Doherty has his angles covered and gets down well to block as the hosts win their second corner within a minute. They are showing plenty of energy and enterprise.

Doherty's punted free drifts above all but Barry Murphy and the optimistic run of Farren. The pacy striker is almost rewarded for his sunny demeanour, but just fails to connect with the dropping ball. There have been rumours circulating that the usually exemplary rovers 'keeper is being called Barry 'no thumbs' Murphy in uncertain circles. There was no uncertainty about his confident catch in the 20th minute, and it set the tone for a welcome return to form ahead of next week's U23 encounter with Northern Ireland.

Around the halfway mark it was Sammon who impressed as Aidan Price dithered over a harmless ball that should have been comfortably defended. Like a bus driver returning to the garage after his last run, he horsed the metres between himself and the defender to put price under intense pressure and win the Candystripes a free-kick. As the visitors sought to gain capital from their deadball award Barry Ferguson intervened to flatten Farren - referee Kelly allowed the advantage and Morrisson's subsequent shot provoked a fine save from Murphy.

It's worth noting that both sets of supporters agreed, as always, on just one thing. Speculation on the sexual proclivities of Alan Kelly concluded that he prefers the intimacy of a one-man show. This was mentioned on several occasions by the vocal and tireless fans at both ends of Tolka Park.

Derry fans felt compelled to proclaim their feelings when Padraig Amond's strike was blocked by an innocent arm in the box. The compulsary calls for a peno fell on hearing ears - it was a harsh penalty to concede. The Carlow-born striker took the responsibility of placing the ball on the
spot; he took the responsibility of addressing the ball; he took the penalty; he hit it low and to the 'keepers left - would Matt Gregg have saved it? He was too busy at Richmond Park to speculate upon such things. The net rippled - just the sort of break a struggling side needs. With 27 minutes gone the Hoops are 1-0 up.

Another lofted ball calls Murphy from his line to - he rises above all others to enact another confidence boosting catch as Stephen Kenny's side attempt to undo the perceived injustice served upon them. As the half hour mark passes, Farren is again left face down - with penalty shouts now in vogue the City faithful clear their throats - Kelly has his deaf ears on now. Cue that song again.

Derry are doing a nice line in fun-sized right backs. Rovers are trying to exploit Tyrell's height advantage on the left wing, but Gareth McGlynn rises defiantly to win the ball on each occasion that he is put to the test. Derry threaten again - this time Farren slips the ball behind the Rovers backline for Sammon to chase - it's quick and neat, Murphy is too. Sammon finds himself out on the right with the ball bouncing before him; his driven cross finds Barry Molloy in a central position on the six-yard line. The battle-hardened midfielder doesn't even have to jump to meet the ball, but his headed effort is weak and wide.

Derry continue to press for an equaliser before the interval - Sammon is again central to their efforts when he sets McGinn up for a dipping volley. Murphy has to drop to smother, the ball squirms free, the 'keeper is first to react. The whistle doesn't blow for half time - the referee blows it.

There are 15 minutes allowed to us for queuing, eating, drinking and contemplation. Both managers restate their positions to thirsty players. The time passes quickly and we are poised to restart. No changes on either side.

The Hoops have regrouped, refocused. They begin apace. Amond extracts a foul from Delaney on Derry's right had side. A deep delivery finds Price unmarked on the far side of the box; the ball arrives at an awkward height for the defender but he manages to get his effort on target. Doherty can only parry and the press corps are checking their stopwatches to see what time Eoin Doyle scores Rovers' second goal. The howls of disbelief that greet his stabbed effort suggest that the score remains the same.

Two minutes into the second half and we have just seen Rovers miss their best goalscoring opportunity of the closing forty-eight minutes. Barry Molloy's injury forces Stephen Kenny into a reshuffle - McCallion ousts McGlynn at right full. McGlynn slips into Molloy's berth. Derry are not being allowed into this half as Rovers' frantic workrate denies their opposition time and space all over the pitch. They take a moment off from such duties to turn a dispossession into a goal threat. O'Brien and Rice combine to good effect down Rovers' right to set Amond up - there's another penalty shout - Kelly ignores it on this occasion. While all around are putting in the kilometeres, Darragh Maguire looks lazy in the central battlefield - closer inspection uncovers consistently well-timed interventions and cover. But there are signs that some of the clockwork Hoops are tiring.

Scully introduces his first substitute - Soccy replaces Tyrell midway through the closing half. Immediately Niall McGinn threatens down that side of the field and efforts produce a corner for the Candystripes - it's their first threat of the half. The visitors are beginning to creep ahead in terms of possession and territorial dominance as the Hoops wilt. Scully interrupts their rhythm with a substitution. Doyle is withdrawn in favour of Dessie Baker. Kenny counters and Kevin McHugh enters the arena in lieu of McGinn. Derry seem to switch to a 4-3-3 set-up as the newly-introduced attacker pushes in alongside his fellow strikers. The visitors are clearly superior now; Gareth McGlynn's twinkling toes adding sparkle to their lustre as the hosts struggle to keep apace.

Scully needs to stiffen up the central midfield area, as his side are beginning to fall back- it seems simple to move Rice in and let McGill drift into the calmer waters of the wide areas. It doesn't happen.

With about quarter of an hour remaining, McGlynn's produces a strike which sparks Barry Murphy into emergency action. The ball rebounds from the crossbar onto the incoming pate of Sammon; the Rovers netminder produces a save akin to Barry Ryan's clawed effort against Cork City a week earlier and Hoops fans holler with admiration and delight. So too do the Derry fans. The referee's assistant is indicating a goal. Hoops fans holler in horror and derision; Derry fans holler with delight and admiration. The sides are level. Just the sort of break a struggling side needs. Alan Murphy replaces Amond as the hosts react to their disappointment; they force two corners in rapid succession. The response ends tamely however with Darragh Maguires' speculative overhead effort.

Both sides are going for the win - Derry break at speed - the ball finds its way into the path of Sammon, who not for the first time in the game, is showing a clean pair of heels to the chasing pack. If all goes well, Sammon could score here. It doesn't. The angle is narrowing as he begins his descent on goal; all the while the Rovers defence is descending upon him and the opportunity evaporates. It's Rovers who next break at pace. Sean O'Connor has just raced past border patrol on the halfway line when Stephen Gray decides to take him out with a callous foul - it should warm the heart of an eL fan to see a professional exact a professional foul. The card was worth it; there can be no doubt about that.

It's end to end stuff - yet another Rovers shout for a penalty - haven't they realised yet that they won't be getting another one? McGlynn again raises his profile, with a good shot on goal. THE REFEREE'S ASSISTANT HAS INDICATED THAT THERE WILL BE A MINIMUM OF THREE MINUTES ADDED TIME. Kevin Deery strikes a welcome sight, on a football pitch again. He enters the 2008 season in place of Farren. The final acts of this ceaseless action involve the tireless legs of Ger O'Brien.

The defender is coaxed into supporting his midfield with an energy sapping run on the outside - he collects the ball and runs at the retreating Derry defence. Swinging inside the goal is coming into view. O'Brien drives low, but wide. A couple of minutes later, with Kelly checking his notes for the end of game whistle tune, the ball is headed in the direction of O'Brien and Morrisson. The former nicks it away from the latter. He heads for the endline and produces a cross of great quality and accuracy. It's arrowed low and hard towards the near post. A kaleidoscope of red, green, white and black arrives at the appropriate post - the danger is averted. The game is over.

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