Two goals from Jason Byrne earned Bohemians a precious win over bitter rivals Shamrock Rovers in an enthralling Dublin derby at Dalymount Park on Friday night.
Byrne fired the Gyspies ahead from the penalty spot on 17 minutes after Gary Deegan had been felled inside the box by Stephen Rice. The Ireland international sealed all three points for the reigning champions midway through the second half when he turned in a Joseph Ndo cross at the near post.
Rovers, playing in a pink kit to raise awareness for breast cancer, went close on several occasions in the first half and Gary Twigg was unfortunate not to put his side ahead inside the opening minute before Stephen Bradley struck the post with a free-kick shortly before the break. The Hoops also had claims for a first half penalty waved away.
However, Bohs stamped their authority on proceedings after the interval and could easily have added to their tally with Anthony Murphy and substitute Graham Carey both going close late on.
With a string of injuries to contend with, Bohs manager Pat Fenlon was forced into three changes from the side which drew with Derry City. With Owen Heary suspended, Ken Oman lined out in the centre of defence, while Brian Shelley was handed his competitive debut at right back with Anto Murphy moving forward to right midfield in place of Joseph Ndo who replaced Killian Brennan on the left wing. Byrne replaced the injured Neale Fenn in attack.
Rovers boss Michael O'Neill had the luxury of naming an unchanged starting line-up from their win over Sligo Rovers, with Sean O'Connor, who was suspended for that game, having to make do with a place on the bench.
The game started at a ferocious pace with Both sides going close inside the opening minutes. Twigg, fresh from scoring the first goal for Rovers in the Tallaght Stadium last weekend, was played in by Stephen Bradley inside 60 seconds, but his goal bound shot deflected off the legs of Jason McGuinness and spun narrowly wide. At the other end, Glen Crowe and Byrne then combined to play in Deegan but the midfielder dragged his shot wide.
The home side went even closer on seven minutes when the unmarked Byrne shot straight at Rovers' goalkeeper Barry Murphy from just six yards.
The hosts weren't having it all their own way, and Rovers, no doubt still hurting from their three derby defeats last season, should have went ahead on ten minutes. Anto Murphy attempted to run the ball out of defence but was caught in possession by Bradley who evaded several challenges inside the Bohs area before shooting past Brian Murphy only to see his effort cleared off the line by Ken Oman.
Rovers were punished for that miss six minutes later when Byrne put Bohs ahead from the penalty spot. Mark Rossiter set Byrne free down the left and his inch-perfect cross ran into the path of the in-rushing Deegan, but before the midfielder could get his shot away he was taken down by Rovers midfielder Stephen Rice. Byrne, making his first start of the season, sent Barry Murphy the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Crowe went close to doubling the home side's advantage on 33 minutes but his shot was tipped over by Barry Murphy. Four minutes later Bradley came agonisingly close to getting Rovers back on level terms when his curling free-kick from 20 yards cannoned back off the post. The ball appeared to strike the hand of Oman as it rebounded back across the goal-line, but referee Richie Winter waved away the appeals of the Rovers players - a real let-off for the home side.
Byrne looked a threat every time Bohs went forward and he set up Deegan for what should have been a certain goal on 39 minutes but his shot from six yards was superbly turned round the post by Barry Murphy.
The end-to-end action continued as the half wore on and it took a great save from Brian Murphy to keep his side ahead just before the break. A slip by Rossiter midway inside his own half leaving Bradley free to charge into the Bohs area only to see his powerful drive blocked by the legs of the Bohs 'keeper.
As both sides trudged off at the break, Rovers would no doubt have felt aggrieved to be behind. However, they could have few complaints in the second period as Bohs found an extra gear and showed exactly why they are again favourites for the title. Rovers tried their hardest to push forward but, in truth, Bohs were just too good for them with Deegan dictating play in the middle of the park and Ndo threatening continuously down the left side.
Indeed, it was those two players who combined to set up Byrne for Bohs second goal on 63 minutes. Ndo showed sublime skill on the touchline to shield the ball from two Rovers defenders before playing a neat one-two with Deegan and racing to the byline to flick the ball inside to Byrne who slotted past Barry Murphy at the near post. It was a an exquisite piece of football which will surely have gone a long way to further bury the spurious claims of some commentators that Bohs don't play good football.
Despite their lead, the home side continue to drive forward. Deegan played in Anto Murphy for what should have been Bohs third on 77 minutes, but he was denied by a brilliant save from Barry Murphy. Ndo then tried his luck with a shot from all of thirty yards, before substitute Carey forced Barry Murphy into yet another fine stop in the final stages.
The win maintains Bohemians unbeaten start to the season and leaves them level with Derry City and Galway United on seven points at the top of the table.
Bohemians: Brian Murphy; Brian Shelley, Jason McGuinness, Ken Oman, Anto Murphy; Mark Rossiter, Gary Deegan (Glenn Cronin 90), Paul Keegan, Joseph Ndo; Glen Crowe, Jason Byrne (Graham Carey 85).
Subs not used: Matt Gregg (gk), Conor Powell, Killian Brennan.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, Aidan Price, Sean Webb, Ian Bermingham; Stephen Rice (Tadgh Purcell 82), Shane Robinson, Stephen Bradley, Ollie Cahill (Sean O'Connor 74); Dessie Baker (Gregg Cameron 68), Gary Twigg.
Subs not used: Robert Duggan (gk), Darragh Maguire.
Referee: Richie Winter
Attendance: 4,200 (estimate)
Extratime.ie man of the match: Jason Byrne(Bohemians) - While Gary Deegan was exceptional in the Bohs engine room, the Shamrock Rovers defence couldn't get near Byrne in the first half and the striker was a constant threat before tiring late on. Two cool finishes capped a fine performance.