The Premier Division title race looks set to go down to the wire as Bohemians battled to a 1-0 win over their fierce rivals Shamrock Rovers, to cut the Hoop’s lead at the top to two points, with just three games remaining.
It was a game that Bohs needed to win. A loss, and Rovers could’ve sealed the title in their next match. A draw, and Bohs would’ve remained five points off the pace, with a maximum nine points left to play for.
Plaudits must go to Bohs manager Pat Fenlon for not employing gung-ho tactics. Fenlon wisely set up his team to contain and isolate Rovers, while dropping striker Paddy Madden to the bench. Despite a bright start from Rovers in the opening minutes, Fenlon’s tactics frustrated Rovers, in particular star striker Gary Twigg.
After an initial nervy start, Bohs began to exert their influence on proceedings. They controlled much of the first half, and despite never looking too dangerous the Gypsies did have two long range efforts from Jason Byrne to show for their efforts.
Byrne had looked the most dangerous player on the pitch and it was he who grabbed the only goal of the match, in the 21st minute. Bohs won a corner which the Rovers defence failed to clear. The ball eventually made it’s way to Glenn Cronin, who chipped a delightful ball back into the box. Ken Oman rose highest to head the ball down to Byrne, and the former Shelbourne and Cardiff striker smashed the ball past Alan Mannus and into the net.
Byrne’s participation in the game ended soon after, as 15 minutes later injury forced him off with Paddy Madden coming on in his stead.
The rest of the half, while intense, played out with neither side creating any clear cut chances. Hoops manager Michael O’Neill sought to improve his side’s fortunes for the second half, by bringing on striker Tommy Stewart and switching to a 4-4-2 formation.
The tactical change worked to some degree, as Rovers started the second half with a renewed sense of urgency. Seven minutes after the game resumed, Rovers squandered two glorious chances. A poor back pass from Ken Oman saw Bohs keeper Barry Murphy race off his line to head clear. However, the ball fell to Gary Twigg who’s effort was then cleared off the line. The goal line clearance found it’s way to James Chambers, and the Rovers’ midfielder fired at goal only be denied by a save from Murphy.
Bohs central midfield pairing of Cronin and Keegan then began to dictate much of the play. Their tackling was fair and accurate and their passing was precise and creative. With these two shining in the middle Bohs regained the bottle they had shown in the first half. The home side created a great chance for Paddy Madden in the 70th minute, but the young striker scuffed his shot wide.
With Bohemians dominating again, chances for Rovers were few and far between. The only real opportunity the Hoops created was a Billy Dennehy header in the 77th minute. Substitute Tommy Stewart deliver a great cross into the Bohs box, which was then licked on by Gary Twigg at the front post. Dennehy met the ball at the back post but directed his header off target.
Bohemians recovered from their defensive lapse, and battled through the final minutes to hold on to their lead, with Ken Oman in particular showing his qualities at the back. As the final whistle blew, a huge cheer erupted from the home crowd. A huge three points for Pat Fenlon’s men, and the pressure has now increased tenfold on Shamrock Rovers in the quest to end their 16 year title drought.
In other results, St. Patrick’s Athletic are pushing Sligo Rovers all the way in the struggle for the European spot. Pats gave an impressive away display to dispatch Drogheda United in a comfortable 3-0 win.
Sligo Rovers still sit in third place however, following their 2-1 home victory against Bray Wanderers.
Saturday, October 9th
Dundalk v Sligo Rovers
Galway United v U.C.D.
Shamrock Rovers v Sporting Fingal
St. Patrick’s Athletic v Bohemians (live on RTE from 1.00pm)
Sunday, October 10th
Bray Wanderers v Drogheda United