A 60th minute goal from Glenn Cronin earned Bohemians a 1-1 draw against Shamrock Rovers on Wednesday night despite the sending off of striker Aidan Downes and the concession of a first half goal to Hoops captain Dan Murray.
Bohemians may no longer be chasing the league title themselves but they managed to achieve what every self respecting nemesis desires by putting on a performance that may yet deny their bitterest of rivals. Rovers needed the three points to once again draw level with Sligo Rovers at the top of the table but now find themselves two points behind Paul Cook’s men, albeit that they still have a game in hand.
As expected the game began at a spicy tempo with firm early challenges from Chris Forrester and Aidan Downes, the latter being somewhat fortunate not to earn a yellow card having piled into Rovers full back Jim Paterson. But it was Rovers wide man Gary McCabe who drew the first card for a poor challenge on Killian Brennan.
The meaty tackles were the highlight of an opening period in which the home side failed to settle, Ronan Finn and Stephen Rice struggling to generate a positive rhythm in the middle and neither McCabe nor Billy Dennehy establishing any sense of danger down the flanks. Indeed, it was Bohemians who looked the more settled, defending solidly despite creating little in the way of attacking play themselves.
Gradually Rovers started to emerge as Dennehy shot weakly at Barry Murphy on 18 minutes and Gary Twigg wasted a glorious opportunity six minutes later, shooting into the side netting from a tight angle when a pass across goal to either McCabe or Gary O’Neill might have created an opening goal.
Rovers threatened again on 26 minutes when Finn nudged a Pat Sullivan ball into the path of O’Neill but his close range header was palmed around the post by Murphy. But just as it seemed that Rovers were lacking the cutting edge to prise open the Bohs defence, Dennehy delivered a 32nd minute corner that Dan Murray headed powerfully into the top right corner of the visitor’s net.
Yellow cards followed for Gary Twigg of Rovers and Downes of Bohemians, who replicated his earlier foul on Paterson, this time failing to avoid the wrath of referee Derek Tomney. But Bohs were starting to come to life as Killian Brennan began to exert more influence over proceedings.
The Bohs playmaker didn’t quite catch a pass from Downes on 38 minutes, shooting straight at Richard Brush from 18 yards and, on 44 minutes, he drove a free kick onto the right hand post after Downes tumbled somewhat unconvincingly on the edge of the Rovers box. This proved to be a crucial moment as the rebound fell to Downes who fell under pressure and received a second yellow from referee Tomney for simulation.
It looked a harsh decision from the stands but Bohs regrouped well at the break, sending on Stephen Hurley for Brennan and resuming their stance of defensive defiance, marshalled superbly by Liam Burns.
Right on the hour mark their diligence was rewarded when a break forwards saw lone striker Anto Flood control a high ball superbly on his chest before turning and sending a precise ball into the path of Glenn Cronin who bundled his shot wide of Brush and just inside the right hand post.
For a while the adrenaline boost of the equaliser served Bohemians well but, as in the first half, Rovers soon wrestled back the initiative and the final twenty minutes belonged to them. The introduction of Chris Turner added a sense of urgency while Rohan Ricketts was also sprung from the bench, bringing with him the ability to hold and use possession in tight spaces.
Gary O’Neill headed a Paterson cross over from six yards when he should really have hit the target and Ricketts flicked in a dangerous cross from the left on 83 minutes that a diving Ciaran Kilduff only just failed to meet. Rovers’ best chance fell with just four minutes remaining when superb play from McCabe on the right culminated in a perfect cross that Kilduff headed wastefully wide.
Deep in added time Dennehy might have rescued the three points when he found himself under a dropping ball just eight yards out but he snatched at the shot and it flew high over Murphy’s crossbar.
In the end the champions didn’t quite deserve the points, Bohemian’s defensive qualities trumping their sometimes heavy handed approach play and their inability to take the chances that came their way. It’s not over for Rovers yet with a game in hand on the league leaders but the fear for the Tallaght faithful must be that the two points dropped here may yet prove to be the ones that matter.
Shamrock Rovers: Richard Brush; Pat Sullivan, Craig Sives, Dan Murray, Jim Paterson; Gary McCabe, Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice (Chris Turner, 67), Billy Dennehy; Gary Twigg (Ciaran Kilduff, 46), Gary O’Neill (Rohan Ricketts, 79).
Subs not used: Ryan Thompson, Enda Stevens, Conor McCormack, Karl Sheppard.
Bookings: McCabe (16), Twigg (34), Dennehy (84), Turner (88).
Bohemians: Barry Murphy; Ger O’Brien, Liam Burns, Aidan Price, Ollie Cahill; Anto Flood, Robert Bayly (Stephen Traynor, 56), Glen Cronin, Killian Brennan (Stephen Hurley, 46), Chris Forrester (Christy Fagan, 87); Aidan Downes.
Subs not used: Craig Sexton, Kevin Feely, Mark O’Reilly, Ryan McEvoy.
Bookings: Downes (36), Bayly (44).
Sendings Off: Downes (44).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Liam Burns.