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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Paul O'Hehir

Shamrock Rovers on the brink after 4-1 win over St Patrick's Athletic

ALL week Shamrock Rovers listened to jibes about how tired they looked, but nobody can question their appetite for the fight.

The Hoops came alive at a rocking Tallaght Stadium and launched a remarkable comeback to fillet one of the league’s form sides in ruthless and brutal fashion.

And in doing so, coupled with Derry City only banking a point at home to Shelbourne, the champions made giant strides towards regaining their title.

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Derry - who face Rovers here next Sunday - must now win away to Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds on Monday night, otherwise it’s over.

Initially, this night threatened to get away from Stephen Bradley’s charges after the sloppy concession of a fourth-minute opener to Serge Atakayi.

But in a game where the entertainment levels were off the charts, the Rovers response was both impressive and relentless and had the fans singing about ‘that’s why we’re champions’

Graham Burke equalised from the penalty spot before Daniel Cleary put the Hoops ahead in the dying moments of the first-half.

Sean Hoare stretched that lead nine minutes into the second-half before Alan Mannus saved a Tunde Owolabi penalty while Burke then scored his second spot kick.

To compound the Saints misery, Anto Breslin was sent off with 15 minutes to play for handling Andy Lyons' shot on the line for that penalty after misjudging his initial headed clearance

Arriving here having won seven of their previous nine games, Saints were determined to blow the title race wide open as they pursued their own European ambitions.

And Atakayi did silence a raucous crowd with that opening goal.

Hoare should have cleared Sam Curtis’ low cross, but fresh-aired the attempt and Atakayi couldn’t believe his luck as he finished unmarked at the back post.

But St Pat’s failed to capitalise on that advantage.

Initially, they were happy to let Rovers have the ball as the Hoops were making hard work of attacks that lacked penetration.

At times all the hosts were missing was last gasp connections as Burke and Lyons both lurked with intent at the back post on separate moves.

The ball just wouldn’t fall their way - but then Rovers upped the ante and cashed in by transforming their possession for something far more tangible.

Joe Redmond clipped Burke with a clumsy challenge in the box when latching onto a Lyons ball and Burke equalised from the spot.

It was just the tonic for the three-in-a-row chasing champions who kicked on again - and never looked back.

By now Pat’s were in a flap. Their early composure completely abandoned them although Rogers got fingers to a Rory Gaffney shot.

But the Hoops flipped the game in the final throes of that opening half - fortuitously so.

From Jack Byrne’s corner, Cleary forced another brilliant save from Rogers who kept out the defender’s header with his legs.

But just as Chris Forrester was jumping to head the loose ball clear, Burke nudged him in the back ever so slightly.

It was enough to unsettle the Saints ace and Cleary couldn’t believe his luck when getting a second chance - this time drilling through Rogers’ legs in a crowded box.

And Rovers drove home their advantage in style.

Nine minutes after the restart, Hoare atoned for his early error by reacting quickest to the loose ball after Chris McCann and Lopes saw efforts blocked.

With Rogers committed to the Lopes effort, the centre-back drilled home and slid with arms outstretched into the South Stand.

News of Shels’ goal in Derry ripped through the ground like an electric surge and heightened the giddiness only for St Pat’s to win a penalty at precisely the same time.

McCann handled a cross into the box but Saints sub Tunde Owolabi was denied by veteran keeper Alan Mannus in remarkable scenes.

Burke then scored his second spot kick of the night when Breslin handled on the line to spark pandemonium behind the goal.

Rovers looked anything but jaded. They are very much alive and kicking and edging towards the title as the Showgrounds now takes centre stage on Monday night.


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