Shamrock Rovers 3-2 Cork City
This game had everything but above all it was everything that a development league should be about. Two top sides battled it out right up to the final whistle. Rovers wanting to keep their unbeaten run going and Cork needing to put a halt to it in what was a ‘six pointer’.
With injuries and two away on international duty, the Hoops were short on numbers with just three fit available substitutes. They began with three at the back with the emphasis on a midfield that was strong in defending, in going forward and in holding the play. It was a bit of a gamble by Stephen Rice and his management team and while it did seem to work in the first half they had to change in the second when it looked like the visitors had taken over the game.
There was an early scare or two though for the new formation as Gavin Bazunu, in goal for Rovers, had to save in the first minute from Dale Holland with team captain Cian Murphy driving wide just a minute later.
The Hoops gradually began to push deeper at the other end with Evan Smithers delivering not just one but three absolutely brilliant efforts for Rhys Murphy to benefit from. In the first instance only a timely block from Shane O’Riordan prevented Murphy from having a crack at goal. The third opportunity saw ‘keeper Patryk Osinski get a critical block to deny the winger a certain goal.
The game had become very even with both teams playing some really impressive football. The visitors didn’t look as confident as they had done earlier though after Rovers had managed to penetrate their defence on a couple of occasions and cause them concern. They fell back a little and this only served to offer the Hoops further opportunities to go in search of the lead goal. That came in the 35th minute but ironically it came after Cork had applied some pressure of their own at the other end. The Hoops broke quickly and when Jack Kelly came in through the centre of the box and shook off his marker he sliced the ball past the advancing Osinski to put Shamrock Rovers a goal ahead.
Just 8 minutes later Kelly was fouled in the box and Dean Williams clinically put his spot kick away to make it 2-0.
City made two changes at half time and went at the Hoops like demons straight from the start of the second half. They got themselves right back into the game in the 56th minute when Douwe Van Sinderen’s free kick from the left saw a mad scramble in the box and Tomas Collins managed to get his head to the ball to put it powerfully past Bazunu.
Rovers brought centre half Adam O’Connor on as they reacted to what was happening on the pitch but matters became even more interesting in the 85th minute when Cian Bargarry levelled the score with a stunning shot that Bazunu could nothing to prevent.
Although time was ticking down the game was far from over and the Hoops, stung by that equaliser and perhaps feeling they could end up with nothing from the game, upped their performance considerably as they went in search of a winning goal.
They went close in the dying seconds after Williams and Murphy combined in a move that resulted in a corner. From that Conor Behan met the ball but drove it wide.
The Hoops captain didn’t miss his chance though when the opportunity came knocking again as the game went into overtime. Williams displayed some fantastic determination as he evaded several defenders in the box and eventually getting the ball out to Behan who met it and sent it crashing into the back of the net.
A minute later and it was all over. A draw would probably have been a fair result; the Cork players were devastated as they knew they had come so close from being 2-0 down at half time to at least getting a share of the spoils.
Shamrock Rovers: 25. Gavin Bazunu; 2. Conor Fitzharris, 23. Lee McEntee, 14. Martins Olakanye; 7. Jack Kelly, 16. Thomas Hannon, 15. Conor Behan, 8. Evan Smithers, 19. James Clarke, 17. Rhys Murphy; 9. Dean Williams. Substitutes: 1. Kalvin Geragthy, 5. Adam O’Connor (Clarke 59 mins), 18. Dan Howlin (Kelly 62 mins).
Report and photographs (here) by Robert Goggins