Homepage image from Peter Fitzpatrick, Article image from Jason O'Callaghan
Shamrock Rovers outclassed Linfield at Tallaght Stadium on Monday night as goals from Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice and a brace from Ciaran Kilduff ensured that Trevor Croly’s men will travel to Belfast next week with a huge advantage in their Setanta Cup 2nd Round tie.
Rovers began the game on the front foot and forced a series of corners before Shane Robinson created the first real opportunity on nine minutes, beating Robert Garrett along the byline before choosing to shoot from an almost impossible angle when a ball across the box might have been the better choice.
Garrett then saw his well struck effort blocked at the other end while Ciaran Kilduff flicked a Sean O’Connor free kick straight at Linfield ‘keeper Ross Glendinning. But Rovers were playing the more incisive football and their reward came on 34 minutes when Jason McGuinness was fouled right on the edge of the Linfield box and Sean O’Connor’s free was parried by Glendinning into the path of Ronan Finn who blasted the ball into the net.
One minute later O’Connor pulled a ball back for Kilduff to head narrowly over and on 42 minutes a stinging 25 yard shot from Karl Sheppard was excellently touched onto his crossbar by Glendinning. Robinson might then have headed home the rebound but Linfield right-back Jim Ervin was there to head off the line.
A second goal did come, however, on the stroke of half-time when Finn turned provider, digging out a terrific cross from the end-line that Kilduff headed to the net from close range.
The second half saw Rovers struggle to regain their earlier rhythm while Linfield battled their way back into contention, pressing the home side with impressive dedication and thus carving several chances out of a game that had seemed lost to them.
Full back Billy Joe Burns shot narrowly wide just three minutes after the restart and Michael Carvill’s missile flew inches over Barry Murphy’s bar on 56 minutes. Burns fired straight at Murphy following good build-up play on the hour mark and Brian McCaul headed over from Carvill’s corner as the Belfast club threatened.
Finally they made the breakthrough when Karl Sheppard’s attempted clearance fell to Burns 20 yards out and he dispatched a looping shot over Murphy and into the far corner of the Rovers net. It was a wonderful strike and thoroughly deserved, but David Jeffrey’s side soon conceded the initiative.
With 73 minutes played James Chambers chipped a free kick over the top of the Linfield back-line and onto the toe of Pat Sullivan who held off two challenges inside the box before squaring the ball to Kilduff who smuggled a shot just inside the far post to restore the Hoops’ two goal lead.
Suddenly Rovers were playing their best football of the game with Finn and Chambers weaving wonderful patterns with substitutes Gary McCabe and Stephen Rice. A fourth goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived seven minutes from time. Pat Sullivan won a challenge in his own half and then found Finn who played a superb ball through the Linfield defence for Rice to run on to. With all the confidence of a veteran striker, Rice took a touch before sliding the ball low past Glendinning.
Linfield might have pulled another goal back right at the death when McGuinness was penalised for climbing all over Brian McCaul inside the box, but McCaul’s well-directed but weak penalty was pushed away by Murphy and the rebound driven wide.
Despite the Blues’ brief revival the final score-line will stand as a reasonably accurate reflection of the contest and David Jeffrey will know that only his team’s very best efforts will offer any hope of a second leg turnover next Monday.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Pat Sullivan, Derek Foran, Jason McGuinness, Conor Powell; Karl Sheppard (Gary McCabe 70), Shane Robinson (Stephen Rice 74), James Chambers, Ronan Finn, Sean O’Connor (Thomas Stewart 85); Ciaran Kilduff.
Subs not used: Richard Brush, Ken Oman, Conor McCormack, Billy Dennehy.
Bookings: Powell (42).
Linfield: Ross Glendinning: Jim Ervin, David Armstrong, William Murphy, Billy Joe Burns; Philip Lowry, Brian McCaul, Robert Garrett (Ryan Henderson 70), Jamie Mulgrew, Michael Carvill; Peter Thompson (Gary Browne 77).
Subs not used: Nathan Hanley, Steven Douglas, Damien Curran, Niall Quinn, Ross Clarke.
Bookings: Mulgrew (23), McCaul (32), Burns (72)
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Extratime Man of the Match: Ronan Finn (Shamrock Rovers).