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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Paul O'Hehir

Shamrock Rovers extend lead at top of table with 2-1 victory over St Patricks

IT’S easy to forget that St Pat’s were top of the league at one stage this season.

That was for one week only, just before St Patrick’s Day. They had beaten Shamrock Rovers here in Inchicore two weeks before they went top of the pile.

Three-and-a-half months later, the fourth-placed Saints trail the league leading Hoops by a whopping 16 points.

READ MORE: Katie McCabe on why she will never snub fans, as she recalls her days as a star-struck supporter

That’s exactly the same margin that Rovers won the league by last season, with St Pat’s finishing runners-up on that occasion.

While Tim Clancy’s charges showed flashes of ability here, they folded all too easily in the space of 10 second-half minutes.

Andy Lyons and Aaron Greene plunged the knife as the Hoops kicked 10 points clear of Dundalk.

And it was particularly ruthless from the champions, as Lyons’s sixth goal of the season came at a time when St Pat’s were just starting to find their rhythm.

Greene’s solo goal was wonderful stuff altogether and fitting to win any game. But Eoin Doyle’s injury-time penalty was never going to fuel the comeback fires.

Chances of note were initially limited at either end, but that didn’t take away from an absorbing end-to-end tussle between these derby rivals.

Pats were happy to hit the Hoops on the break in the opening half, allowing the visitors control the tempo of a well-contested game.

But without injured trio Danny Mandroiu, Jack Byrne and Richie Towell, Rovers were lacking a creative edge in the final third.

Rory Gaffney and Greene could not be faulted for effort and endeavours, and extracting the same wow factor from them was going to be a challenge.

Greene had other ideas, of course, and rose to the challenge midway through the second-half.

But before the goals, Rovers best chance of the half fell to defender Roberto Lopes whose flicked effort from Dylan Watts cross was fumbled by Joseph Anang.

The on-loan West Ham goalkeeper was counting his lucky stars to see the ball go out for a corner and not into his net.

Saints carried a threat on the counter and settled after Billy King blazed a wild, early shot over the crossbar.

Darragh Burns - watched here by MK Dons boss Liam Manning, and also said to be on Rovers radar - was a handful raiding the right flank.

But the Saints didn’t get him involved enough.

Ultimately, Hoops keeper Alan Mannus had little to contend with before the break and easily gathered a tame Eoin Doyle shot.

Down the other end, had Gaffney reacted a fraction quicker to Greene’s ball across the face of goal, Rovers would have snatched an injury-time lead.

But if spectators were starved of chances in that opening half, they got bang for the buck after the break.

And it was the Saints with the bit between their teeth - although an inability to capitalise would soon haunt them.

Eoin Doyle steered a free header wide before Chris Forrester blazed over from distance and then forced Mannus into a comfortable diving save.

Burns also found Mannus from outside the box, while Jack Scott’s clipped challenge in the box on Lyons was perfectly timed.

But less so the combined Saints defensive effort in dealing with the decisive Lyons goal in the 61st minute.

Gaffney held the ball up for Greene whose cross was missed by Gannon, but was swept home by Lyons for his sixth goal of the season.

And it was curtains ten minutes later when Greene conjured up his magic spell to leave the Saints defence in a pitiful heap.

Hugging the left touchline, he cut inside and nutmegged Scott and then left Burns in a spin before finding the net with a thunderbolt from an impossibly tight angle.

Lee Grace’s late clearance off the line from Tunde Owolabi summed up the host’s frustration, and the life was drained from them before Doyle’s late consolation.

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