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From Macdara Ferris in Finn Park
With four players missing from each side’s team due to suspension, the size and quality of the Shamrock Rovers squad helped the Hoops to the 1-0 win over Finn Harps in Ballybofey on Friday night.
Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley brought Dan Devine into defence and started Michael O’Connor upfront for only the second time this season (having made five appearances off the bench in the previous six league games). The Hoops built on their clean sheet and it was O’Connor’s goal that earned all three points against Harps and a move up to fourth in the table.
Speaking to extratime.ie after the final whistle in Finn Park, Bradley explained how the long suspension list framed his decision to change formation. He had the impression that bringing in O’Connor alongside Gary Shaw and switching from their usual 4-2-3-1 system to deploy his team in a 4-4-2 would pay dividends and so it proved.
“Mikey has been ‘on it’ in training and sometimes you get that feeling when players are like that and you just have to play them. With Graham (Burke) being out, who usually plays off the striker for us, it made us think. While we had other players who could play there, Mikey to be fair to him has worked really hard in the last few weeks.
“He has been working his socks off and we had a chat with the staff so with his form in training and with the suspensions, we went with that system. I thought he was excellent throughout. He was one of our top performers.”
Bradley was missing four main stays of his starting XI with Burke, Dave McAllister, Trevor Clarke and David Webster all out due to suspension. Webster had played in every Rovers game so far this year, while the other three had missed out on only ten league games between them in total.
In Ballybofey, the home team probably felt a little bit hard done by going off a goal down at the break. Harps had managed not to give O’Connor or his strike partner Gary Shaw too many sights of goal.
Two minutes from half time though, O’Connor got on the end of a Simon Madden cross to score his second goal of the league campaign. “For the goal he made it look easy but it was a great header taking it into the far corner away from the ‘keeper. It was a great flick.”
Bradley was full of praise also for Shaw who led the line for Rovers. “Gary was brilliant. He has been our main man all season and he has led us all year. When he is in that form, he has that mindset of being a bully basically and using what he has. He is very very hard to stop as he is good with his feet, he is good with his back to goal and he can run. He allowed us to get up the pitch.”
Rovers couldn’t add to their tally in the second half but defended resolutely against a Harps side who were looking for their first win over the Hoops since 2008. It was Rovers’ fitth clean sheet of the league campaign and their fourth in the last seven games.
“The back four wanted a clean sheet. We are really fit as a team. You can see that with players who haven’t played for weeks but they are fit and ready to go. The fact we are working full time and have that energy will mean we will get wins over those teams.”
The Hoops looked to have got the benefit of the mid-season break as they seemed refreshed at Finn Park compared with the lethargic second half display in the 1-1 draw at home to St. Pat’s just prior to the break. The club will know on Monday who they will face in Europa League qualification but before their First Qualifying Round tie they will welcome Drogheda United to Tallaght in league action next Friday night.