This result saw Pat Fenlon’s side leap above the champions, the fourth time there has been a change of leadership in the past 10 days.
Shelbourne had the best of the first half, as Bohs struggled to get to grips with their five-man midfield, and survived a second half of concerted Bohs pressure, with Steve Williams, Owen Heary and Jamie Harris all emerging as heroes. This was the Tolka side’s first victory in four attempts over their most bitter, and evenly-matched rivals.
The absence of Richie Baker through suspension might have made some Shelbourne supporters fretful before kick-off, their only player to score in the past three games, but Pat Fenlon tinkered with his team to excellent effect. Stuart Byrne was technically in for Stepgen Geoghegan, to offer more depth in a five-man midfield, but he proved an able replacement for Baker.
Moments before his goal, he warned Bohs with clever running on the edge of the box that forced Colin Hawkins into a foul. Two minutes later, after a neat piece of skill from Dave Rogers in the centre circle, Byrne connected with Jason Byrne’s pass to put Shels in front. Crucially, Hawkins slipped in the area to give Byrne a clear sight of goal, and he finish was calmness personified.
Shelbourne lost the lead just after gaining it 10 days previously in Tolka, and it almost happened again
Last night. Glen Crowe and Bobby Ryan combined to unlock the Shels defence and Ryan’s strike seemed destined for the back of the net, but Owen Heary sprinted from nowhere to make a goalmouth clearance.
Bohs almost scored again from the resultant corner. Despite close Gypsy attention, Jamie Harris managed to get his head to the cross. It looked certain to be an unfortunate own goal until Steve Williams acrobatically clawed it out.
Those superb saves, within a minute of each other, gave the impression that it finally might be Shels’ night after a season of disappointment against their most bitter rivals. Coming into this game, Shels had taken only one of the possible nine points up for grabs between the two, the champions having taken seven. But as the game went on, Bohs were finding increasingly difficult to unhinge the Shelbourne midfield, which had an extra man and when Wes Hoolahan displayed the finest piece of skill in the 35th minute, dancing with the ball outside the box before unleashing a drive that Seamus Kelly had to finger-tip away, you felt perhaps the Shels fans weren’t being premature in appropriating the old Celtic tune and telling the Dalymount faithful they would never do two in a row.
Ryan was full of energy, as usual, but playing against five across the midfield, neither himself nor Dave Morrision didn’t have their typical space on the flanks. Stephen Kenny prised Mark Rutherford from the bench for the second half, but he fared little better.
Indeed in the 49th minute, it was Rutherford’s mistake that released Jason Byrne. The striker latched onto the loose ball, but found Seamus Kelly equally alert and the keeper’s reactions saved Bohs for the second time in three minutes. Moments into the second half, Jim Crawford’s through ball presented Ollie Cahill with the opportunity to put Shels two up, but Kelly was swift from his line to deny him.
The champions’ normal game-plan was smothered by Shelbourne tactics. Crowe was afforded little space, and his first half performance was confined to trying to release his team-mates. It wasn’t until the 55th minute that Crowe had Dalymount holding their breath, when he spun onto a Paul Keegan header. Williams was proving just as tough an obstacle as his counterpart. Shels were looking pretty comfortable for a lot of the second half, as the normal Bohs composure went out the window as they searched for an equaliser. It almost came in the 68th minute. Fergal Harkin, barely on the field, crossed the ball into the box, Crowe pounced when Harris failed to clear. A scramble ensued before ref Alan Kelly awarded a free out to ease Shelbourne nerves.
Harkin came on for Stephen Caffrey, and after only a few minutes on the field, he seemed to inject Bohs with a spark they lacked for much of the game. Harkin was and was at the hub of almost everything Bohs created as they searched frantically for an equaliser. In the 73rd minute, Williams was again the hero as he palmed away Keegan’s header from a Ryan corner.
BOHEMIANS (4-4-2): Kelly; Heary, Hawkins, Oman, Webb; Ryan, Hunt, Caffrey (Harkin 67 mins), Morrison (Rutherford h-t); Crowe, Keegan(Doyle 75 mins)
SHELBOURNE (4-5-1): Williams; Heary, Harris, McCarthy, Rogers; Hoolahan (Baker 82 mins), Morgan, Crawford, Cahill; S Byrne, J Byrne (Rowe 85 mins)
Referee: A Kelly (Cork)