Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers moved four points clear at the top of the early season table with a very straightforward 3-0 win over Sligo Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Friday evening. Ronan Finn, Dan Carr and Jack Byrne all scored their first goals of the season as the Hoops took apart a very disappointing Liam Buckley side.
With the Republic of Ireland squad due in camp this weekend ahead of their upcoming game with Gibraltar, the senior management team – and manager in waiting – were all in Tallaght to watch the game.
Mick McCarthy, Terry Connor and Tallaght man Robbie Keane were at the match, as was under-21 boss Stephen Kenny – who had a couple of the players from his squad for the upcoming game against Luxembourg on the pitch (Trevor Clarke from the Hoops and Sligo’s Niall Morahan, along with Dante Leverock on the bench).
Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley named an unchanged team from last week’s 1-0 win away to St. Pat’s but he could have named a fly ‘keeper in goal for all Alan Mannus needed to do.
Sligo, who haven’t won in Tallaght since 2013, offered very very little going forward and seemed content to keep all 11 men mostly behind the ball, with Ronan Coughlan a forlorn figure up top on his own.
Much has been made of the midfield qualities that Bradley has at his disposal and there was plenty of intricate passing from the likes of Aaron McEneff, Greg Bolger, Ronan Finn and Jack Byrne as the Hoops looked to break down the blanket Bit O’Red defence.
Aaron Greene did turn the ball into the Sligo net on 27 minutes with a nice touch after getting on the end of curling cross from Jack Byrne but the offside flag went up to rule out that effort.
The Hoops forced a few corners and it was from one of those set pieces six minutes from the break that the home side took the lead. A deep Byrne centre somehow managed to come through a number of players to Dan Carr who peeled away at the backpost. He was delighted with the space he was given and Carr swept the corner home for his first goal of the season.
Greene, as he has done all season, was superb at holding the ball up and when he turned sharply on the edge of the box a couple of minutes later he almost caught Beeney off guard. The goalkeeper dived low to his left to just about turn the ball around the post for another set piece and keep his team just a goal down at the break.
Liam Buckley took off the ineffectual Romeo Parkes at the break as he looked to get his side back into the game but the Hoops continued as they left off before the break.
Carr was causing Sligo Rovers all sorts of difficulty. A low drive just went by Beeney’s right hand post five minutes after the restart. He should have doubled the lead soon after when Byrne played in Finn whose centre came to Carr in front of goal but he couldn’t steer it on target.
He then knocked the ball by Johnny Dunleavy one side and ran around the other to collect and get a shot away that just went over the bar.
It took till the hour mark for the Bit O’Red to really get their first sight of goal with Coughlan’s header going vaguely near the Hoops goal.
It did take time for the Hoops to put the game out of reach but they managed that through their captain. Aaron Greene’s effort was blocked but the striker showed great composure to play the ball into Finn’s path and he made no mistake to beat Beeney.
With the rain falling lightly, the Hoops eased off with Bradley bringing on Dylan Watts and Sean Kavanagh to rest Finn and Clarke. Kavanagh did well to block a Chris Twardek shot when the Canadian saw the space open up in front of him with a quarter of an hour remaining and that was as close as the visitors came.
Jack Byrne, who has trained with the Republic of Ireland squad in the past, wrapped up the win eight minutes from time with a superb shot from outside the area. He let loose and the ball flew into the top corner of the net in front of the singing Shamrock Rovers fans in the new South Stand chanting “Hoops on top of the league”.
The clean sheets continue to pile up for the Hoops – five in seven league games this season – and that has given them a platform to build on. With their miserly defence that has conceded just two goals, and the abundant qualities in midfield, there is much less talk of a 20-goal a season striker that many felt the Hoops need to mount a serious title challenge.
Due to under-21 call ups, the Hoops will be involved in the only Premier Division game next week. If they can get another win over bottom side Finn Harps next Friday, it would mean they could extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points – albeit with what would be two more games played than Dundalk.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Trevor Clarke (Sean Kavanagh 68); Aaron McEneff, Greg Bolger; Jack Byrne, Ronan Finn (c) (Dylan Watts 67), Dan Carr (Joel Coustrain 80); Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Sam Bone, Brandon Kavanagh, Orhan Vojic.
Booked: Jack Byrne (70), Joey O’Brien (89).
Sligo Rovers: Mitchell Beeney; Niall Morahan, Kyle McFadden, John Mahon, Lewis Banks; Johnny Dunleavy, David Cawley (Sam Warde 78); Kris Twardeck, Ronan Murray (Daryl Fordyce 78), Romeo Parkes (Liam Kerrigan h/t); Ronan Coughlan.
Subs not used: Luke McNicholas, Jack Keaney, Regan Donelon, Dante Leverock.
Booked: John Mahon (56), Lewis Banks (70).
Referee: Robert Rogers.
Attendance: 3,000 (estimate).
Extratime Player of the Match: Jack Byrne (Shamrock Rovers).