Waterford United 5-1 Shamrock Rovers.
The questions were being asked afterwards. How come a Hoops team that has led throughout the season and had been unbeaten come such a cropper at the RSC today?
Firstly, let’s not take away from the Waterford performance. They fully deserved the win on the day. They were fluent, disciplined, had great shape and worked well together as a unit.
However, it must be said they couldn’t have got Shamrock Rovers at a better time. The Hoops were without their regular full backs, Eric Abulu and Martins Olakanye (both on holidays). Influential centre half Andy Spain was also absent (holidays too) and goalkeeper Kalvin Geraghty was absent due to a family bereavement. Injuries have also taken their toll on Stephen Rice’s team. They had only three fit substitutes available, two of whom, Jack Priestly and Rhys Murphy, have not played a competitive game in two months. Both were introduced into the fray in the second half.
Rovers had a dream start after Adam O’Connor met Dean William’s delivery at the far post with a header to make it 1-0. They looked fluent in the first ten minutes but there were warnings that Waterford were capable of causing damage as the home side sought to use the flanks to good effect.
The throw-in on the right led to the equaliser with Regix Madika picking out the unmarked Colm Whelan who headed past Gavin Bazunu to make it 1-1.
The home side took the lead in the 17th minute with the Hoops’ defence in disarray. Bazunu made a save and had to recover quickly to attempt a second one in quick succession but this time couldn’t hold the ball on the ground and Jack Larkin tapped it over the line.
The Blues were enjoying a dominant spell as they hit the crossbar and then Thomas Hannon denied them a third with a goal line clearance. The Hoops were finding it hard to get key midfielders Conor Behan and Evan Smithers into the game.
Just past the two-thirds stage of the first half the Hoops went further behind after a free kick was awarded. Madika carried the ball on and beat Bazunu to make it 3-1. Lee McEntee tried a spectacular 40-yard shot that would have been a sensational goal had Blues ‘keeper Charlie Heffernan not managed to stop it at the last second. Whelan got his second and Waterford’s fourth four minutes before half time but had Smithers’ effort that came off the crossbar gone in it would given the Hoops a realistic hope going in at the break.
Two changes were made to the Rovers’ team at half time as Jack Priestley and James Clarke were introduced. The substitutes certainly put more bite into Rovers’ play but a terrific goal from Whelan out on the left that flew into the net put Waterford 5-1 up and finished the Hoops off.
Still, they had some good chances during the rest of the game to get something back. In the 57th minute Dean Williams supplied Smithers with a low ball and the midfielder tested Heffernan with a powerful shot.
Rhys Murphy was sprung into action from the bench from Rovers who had now used all of their substitutions.
They had a real scare in the 74th minute after O’Connor stubbed his foot while conceding a corner. The captain was able to resume after some treatment.
The win has enabled Waterford to take the lead at the top of the Southern Division but Rovers will regroup and should be there or thereabouts when the top four is finally decided.
Rovers: 25. Gavin Bazunu, 2. Conor Fitzharris, 5. Adam O’Connor, 23. Lee McEntee, 10. Jordan Tallon, 18. Dan Howin, 15. Conor Behan, 8. Evan Smithers, 16. Thomas Hannon, 11. Kenny Cunningham, 9. Dean Williams.
Substitutes: 6. Jack Priestly for Behan (h.t.), 7. James Clarke for Howlin (h.t.), 17. Rhys Murphy for Smithers (70 mins).
Report and images (here) courtesy of Robert Goggins.