Shamrock Rovers rode their luck, not for the first time this season, to record a critical 1-0 victory over their cross-Dublin rivals, extending the gap at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division to five points on a balmy autumn day in Tallaght.
The deciding goal from Daniel Lafferty was something of a fluke and Bohs had what appeared to be a clear-cut penalty kick ruled a fair challenge in the second half. The visitors' efforts were probably worthy of a point on another day.
This was a cracking game, with lots of quality, both offensively and defensively. Rovers shuffled their pack a bit, showcasing their squad depth, and Stephen Bradley will reflect on a nice job done by management as this was far from straightforward against a confident Bohs side.
Rovers' starting 11 reflected their fear of Bohs’ pace on the flanks, which has been so potent this term. As such, Daniel Lafferty was preferred to Neil Farrugia at left-full, and Joey O’Brien made a rare start in the dugout.
This was the second of three visiting sides to Tallaght in succession wearing red and black. Longford Town’s victory over the Hoops’ second team last night was far from insignificant, given the incredible cameo of 15-year-old Kevin Zefi. He has attracted the interest of Internazionale whose legendary rivals, AC Milan, are the next opponents Rovers will face in Tallaght, come a Europa League tie behind closed doors later this month.
The pre-match music featured 'Ghost Town’ by the Specials, reflecting the relative silence at a ground that should not only have been heaving today but also for the visit of Milan. Yet, so much do Rovers crave a league title, one of their security staff admitted beforehand that he was not the only Hoops fan more afraid of Bohemians than the Milanese.
On three minutes the first chance. The powerful Andre Wright had lots of grass to aim at as Danny Grant raided down the right and, having gotten the ball back, the Englishman drove at Alan Mannus but it was a comfortable save.
Rovers took the lead on five minutes. The most teasing of left-footed crosses from Graham Burke missed everyone until Stephen McGuinness parried; as Andy Lyons tried to rush his clearance, Lafferty blocked to score the most unusual of goals and his third in two games, having returned to the side.
Bohs threatened to equalise almost immediately, a stinging pass from JJ Lunney putting Chris Twardek one on one with Finn and his excellent cross found Keith Buckley but his shot met a Rovers defender.
The Hoops are probably the biggest set-piece threat in the league, mainly thanks to Jack Byrne, who found Lee Grace on 25 minutes; his header was blocked and the resulting corner preceded Ronan Finn heading over as the Hoops pressed hard.
There was so much talent on show here it was a surprise that no yellow card was incurred until the half-hour mark, Lunney having enough of Burke’s trickery and pulling him back around the half-way line.
Burke flashed a shot a long way wide, not for the first time leaving Byrne justifiably frustrated, before James Finnerty flattened Aaron McEneff and also saw yellow. Burke hit the free-kick straight at McGuinness.
Grace, who had a poor enough first half but a much better second, then saw yellow for a clumsy challenge on Twardek.
Bohs were looking for a penalty, alleging that Liam Scales had a hold of Finnerty in the box, with all the Hoops’ players within the D as a reflection of their respect for Bohs’ own set-piece threat.
The searing pace of Grant caught out the otherwise impressive Lafferty as the break approached and he pulled it back but Lunney blazed over.
Rare it is in the game nowadays to have a full-back so fixated on defending that he rarely makes attacking forays but on one Andy Lyons failed to trouble Mannus ten minutes after the break.
The home side had the better of the first 15 minutes in the second half and Ronan Finn’s bungled shot had McGuinness on edge.
Burke, whose technical qualities would not be out of place at a much higher level, then had McGuinness scrambling but his low drive went wide of the post.
Bohs should have had a penalty on 64 minutes. Scales blocked Grant’s run after a stunning pass from the excellent Dan Casey and the Gypsies’ players were amazed nothing was given. Some of the Rovers players were too.
With 20 minutes left, Twardek headed at Mannus, Danny Mandroiu now on for the visitors and the game still very much open to a different conclusion.
Mandroiu was growing in influence and Finnerty headed wide with eight minutes left, Mannus beaten.
Mandroiu then found space after a Grant flick but drilled at Mannus with his left foot when one nearly fancied him to score.
Moments after coming on for the disappointing Wright, Dinny Corcoran blasted over, a chance he might have taken on another day. Likely Bohs' title chance is pretty remote now, with Rovers having their biggest game left in the league this season safely relegated to a happy history.
Milan should be wary.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Grace, Lopes, Scales, Lafferty (Farrugia 80); Finn, Byrne, McEneff, O’Neill; Burke (Watts 73); Greene (Marshall 89).
Bohemians: McGuinness; Lyons, Finnerty, Casey, Breslin; Grant, Buckley, Lunney (Devoy 77), Twardek; Ward (Mandroiu 66); Wright (Corcoran 86).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
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