Shamrock Rovers stole a late winner against Bray at the Carlisle Grounds on Sunday afternoon as two strikes from Karl Sheppard lifted them back to the top of the Airtricity Premier Division.
An early goal from Karl Sheppard provided just about the only highlight of a first half that was ruined by the windy conditions as Rovers failed to add authority to their territorial dominance and Bray struggled to make use of their occasional forays forward.
The goal was created largely thanks to an excellent cross from the right by Pat Sullivan who appeared to have run out of space by the byline. Chris Turner met the ball six yards out but his header was palmed onto the crossbar by Bray keeper Darren Quigley only for the lurking Sheppard to bury the rebound.
After that it was mostly a case of both sides trying to control a ball that often seemed to have a mind of its own. McCabe got a shot away on 19 minutes that failed to trouble Quigley and provided a cross for Gary Twigg ten minutes from the break which the striker couldn’t direct on target.
If that was sum total of excitement in the opening 45 minutes then the second half didn’t look like it would fare any better. Both sides continued to struggle in the battle to make the ball do what they wanted and there was little to warm the hearts of the buffeted crowd.
In fact nothing really happened until the 64th minute when Gary Dempsey lined up behind a free kick wide on Bray’s left flank. His delivery looked dangerous as it came into the box looking for a Bray head, but without taking a touch it tucked inside Richard Brush’s far post to give the home side the most unlikely of equalisers.
The goal gave Bray heart and they created a few more half chances before the game’s end. But it was Rovers who were more in need and Michael O’Neill sent on Rohan Ricketts and Ciaran Kilduff in an attempt to get a winner.
Ricketts offered composure on the ball while Kilduff offered a willing target for some increasingly desperate attacking play. On 78 minutes McCabe snapped a 35 yard volley over Quigley’s head only to see it crash back off the upright and four minutes later Rickett’s raised Rovers hopes with a skillful sortie along the byline before running out of options inside the Bray box.
Just as the away fans were preparing for readjusted expectations Rovers found a winner. Ricketts delivered a free from the left that Quigley did well to claim but just moments later the ball was being worked down the opposite flank through Kilduff. His cross found the stooping Karl Sheppard and his ruthless header from eight yards gave the champions a win that they perhaps just about deserved, if not for their finesse, at least for their persistence.
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; Daire Doyle, Shane O’Connor (Kevin Knight, 70), Chris Shields (Dave Webster, 35), Dane Massey; John Mulroy, Dean Zambra, Danny O’Connor, Gary Dempsey, Kieran Waters; Conor Murphy (Gary Shaw, 46).
Subs not used: Brian Kane, Graham Kelly, Danny McGuinness, Shane O’Neill.
Bookings: Dempsey(41), Knight (84).
Shamrock Rovers: Richard Brush; Pat Sullivan, Craig Sives, Dan Murray, Jim Paterson; Gary McCabe (Ciaran Kilduff, 81), Ronan Finn, Chris Turner (Stephen Rice, 89), Billy Dennehy (Rohan Ricketts, 71); Gary Twigg, Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Ryan Thompson, Conor McCormack, Stephen O’Donnell, Ken Oman.
Bookings: Turner (62).
Referee: Dave McKeon.
Attendance: 3,500 (estimate).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Karl Sheppard for his two goals.