A late header from Kevin Doherty maintained Shelbourne's 100 percent start to the season as they finally found a way past a game Mervue United in the dying minutes at Terryland Park on Friday night. The result sees the Reds keep pace with UCD at the summit of the First Division but they were almost left to rue a succession of missed chances.
A tonne of grit and a handy dose of luck almost allowed Mervue to make a shock dent in Shels' perfect record, showing survival skills of epic proportions as they thwarted attack after attack from Dermot Keely's men, who had come into the game on the back of four straight wins. The visitors were denied countless times by a combination of a strong defence, desperation, woodwork and goalkeeper Eoin Martin, who performed heroics after he came into the side as a late replacement for the injured Ryan Griffin.
However, defender Doherty, who returned to the club during the winter, broke the hearts of the home outfit when he headed in a David Crawley corner with three minutes of normal time remaining to secure his side a precious win. Mervue, for their part, had a respectable amount of possession and also created openings in front of goal. However, if the duo had entered the boxing ring, Shels would have been clear on points and justified victors in a contest which had swathes of one-sided intervals.
Along with having a new 'keeper in the starting XI, striker David O’Dowd returned from a one-match suspension for Mervue, while central midfielder Nicky Curran came back into the side following injury. Keely, meanwhile, had the benefit of almost a full squad to choose from. Dave McGill, who was suspended for last week's home win over Limerick, returned to take his place on the bench, but Richie Baker was an absentee after complaining of a back problem in training during the week.
The visitors brought a small but vocal contingent of supporters, which almost matched the Mervue faithful in numbers, and they had plenty to be happy about early on as Shels threatened from the outset. Striker Anto 'Bisto' Flood was the first to go close as, in the eight minute, his effort almost found the target after he tempted Martin out of his penalty area. David McAllister was then left wide open to receive a cross which sailed straight across goal. Nobody was on hand to direct it goalwards, before Martin made a superb save, diving low to his left to deny what seemed a certain Flood goal.
The ascendancy was well and truly with the Dubliners, and Paddy Madden and Damien Brennan also narrowly failed to break the deadlock in the opening 20 minutes. But it was a chance just shy of the half hour that they would rue the most when Flood took a shot which deflected to the feet of Madden, who looked to have a clear path to goal. However, he could only smash it on to the left post, Martin smothering the rebound and Mervue collectively breathing a sigh of relief for the ultimately lucky escape.
Mervue forward Dave Goldbey became an early casualty for the hosts as he was replaced on 28 minutes by Alex Lee following an ankle injury. As a result, the Galway club reverted to 4-5-1 formation with O’Dowd the lone man up front. Soon after, however,, Curran forced Shels 'keeper Dean Delaney into his first serious save of the night with a great long-range effort from outside the box, before the visitors continued on their attacking raid, Derek Doyle attempting to fire high past Martin after a cross by McAllister. The 'keeper was well up for the challenge, though, and saved well.
Somehow, it was still scoreless when the sides retired for the half-time interval and Mervue would be the first to admit that luck had been a welcome 12th man in the opening 45 minutes of a one-sided contest. The opening exchanges of the second half saw Martin forced into another desperation save, before Mervue substitute Lee drilled a shot well wide following a good ball forward by Mike Tierney. Mervue were beginning to find their way into the contest as light rain started sifting across the ground and only a questionable offside ruling prevented O’Dowd from taking on the lone Delaney.
Physicality was beginning to find its way into the game as both sides craved the breakthrough. Substitute Peter Hynes almost slid one in from the right, however, a combination of Mark Ludden and Martin were on hand to deflect the effort wide. The pressure remained on the home side for the next few minutes as they survived two good chances from corners and a long-range shot. It literally seemed a matter of how much longer they could hang on for, however, as the raids kept coming and, eventually, it was Doherty’s 87th-minute effort that provided Shelbourne with a priceless win.
Mervue United: Eoin Martin; David O'Brien, Eric Browne, Damien O'Rourke, Mark Ludden; Rory Gaffney (Pat Hoban 90), Gary Traynor, Mike Tierney, Nicky Curran (Ger McGrath 76), David Goldbey (Alex Lee 28); David O'Dowd.
Subs not used: Ryan Griffin (gk), Rynal Browne.
Shelbourne: Dean Delaney; Damien Brennan, Alan Keely, Kevin Doherty, David Crawley; Mark O'Brien (Darren Meenan 73), David McAllister (Dave McGill 92), David Cassidy, Derek Doyle; Anto Flood, Paddy Madden (Peter Hynes 56).
Subs not used: Vinny Whelan (gk), Robbie Hedderman.
Referee: Keith Callanan.
Attendance: 350 (estimate)
Extratime Man of the Match: Eoin Martin (Mervue United).