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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Paul Lennon

Shamrock Rovers 1 St Patrick's Athletic 0: Rory Gaffney steps up as Hoops ignite their title challenge

Rory Gaffney told The Hoops' faithful before tonight's southside derby that he was sure that the goals would soon start to flow.

The striker was as good as his word when his clinical 51st minute header settled a tense Tallaght Stadium encounter that ignites the Premier Division title race.

With Derry City surprisingly slumping to their first defeat of the campaign at home to Shelbourne, Gaffney's second league goal of the season reduces the margin between leaders City and the champions to just three points.

If not a classic in front of a near capacity crowd of 7,424, there was no disguising the importance of the outcome.

So it was perfectly understandable that Rovers' fans gave their side a standing ovation at the final whistle.

With the hosts' leading scorers Graham Burke and Andy Lyons - four and three Premier goals respectively- both injured, it was only natural that Rovers' supporters might have wondered where their firepower would come from.

Gaffney duly delivered with an instinctive finish that rewarded another display of non-stop graft.

With Derry not playing Drogheda United until Monday night, a win for Rovers at home to Dundalk earlier on the Bank Holiday will send them joint top.

The Hoops gave a first start since last August against Drogheda to Sean Kavanagh in the absence of the injured Lyons whose ailment had not been revealed on Thursday.

With Burke's calf problem keeping him out, Danny Mandroiu came into the side while Roberto Lopes' recovery from Covid meant that he replaced Sean Gannon at the back.

Saints' boss Tim Clancy replaced the injured adam Murphy with Jason McClelland while Billy King was preferred to Ronan Coughlan in attack.

The Hoops asserted early authority on proceedings with the visitors content to sit and invite their hosts on.

It was a ploy that largely proved successful with the home side dominating possession and their midfield and attack moving the ball sweetly and swiftly.

Yet for all their neat approach work, they never looked like testing Joseph Anang who was offered plenty of protection in the shape of James Abankwah, Joe Redmond, Tom Grivosti and Anto Breslin.

In fact, as is often the case in such games, it was the away side who created the two best chances of the half.

Eoin Doyle's 31st minute pass picked out Billy King whose low drive was well saved by Mannus with Darragh Burns unable to poke the rebound home under pressure from Grace.

Nine minutes later it was again Doyle the creative force with his pass to Burns giving the winger the opportunity to run diagonally across the face of The Hoops' box only for his shot to be blocked by Grace's outstretched leg.

In between, however, Rovers had legitimate claims for a 35th minute penalty when Abankwah - caught out of place and with Mandroiu goal side - appeared to push the attacker inside the area.

Referee Paul McLaughlin was well placed to assess the challenge and showed no interest in awarding Rovers a spot kick, much to the annoyance of the home fans.

Just before the interval, Abankwah was booked for a silly push on O'Neill in the Rovers' technical area while Redmond entered the book when catching Mandroiu late.

Precious little changed on the resumption and there was only one prescription required to trigger the opening up of the game - a goal.

It duly arrived in the 51st minute when Finn's neat pass on the right picked out Mandroiu who immediately and accurately picked out Gaffney who, for once, lost the attentions of Redmond to peel away and beat Anang with a close range header.

A merited breakthrough for The Hoops and a goal that would need a response from St Pats.

They pushed up and committed more players to pressing Rovers, this now offering Bradley's men greater space to counter-attack.

and 62 minutes in, Byrne found himself in acres of room 30 yards out, advanced and saw his deflected low shot well saved.

Bradley then replaced goal hero Gaffney with Aaron Greene - the match winner at Shelbourne - although Gaffney didn't to look overly happy with the decision.

Within a minute, Byrne'S corner from the left was glanced just wide by Grace's header with the effort taking a deflection on the way and several Rovers' players claiming a penalty for a handball.

Tim Clancy sent on the cavalry in the shape of five substitutions but with Rovers doing likewise and a series of petty fouls peppering the play, there was no rhythm to the final 10 minutes.

So Rovers held out comfortably to send a message north that it's very much game on in the title race.

Shamrock Rovers:

Alan Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, Grace; Finn (Gannon 88), O'Neill, Towell (Watts 72), Kavanagh (Farrugia 72); Byrne (McCann 88), Gaffney (Greene 68), Mandroiu. Subs - Pohls, Cotter, Emakhu, Carey.

St Patrick's Athletic:

Anang ; Abankwah , Redmond, Grivosti, Breslin (M Doyle 72); Forrester , O'Reilly (McCormack 82), McClelland (Coughlan 72); Burns, E Doyle (Scott 84), King (Owolabi 72). Subs - Bermingham, Grivosti, Curtis, Corbally.

Referee: P McLaughlin.

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