A TITLE race with more unexpected twists and turns than a Wayne Rooney transfer saga delivered perhaps its greatest upset yet last night, as Galway United beat Bohemians in a five-goal thriller at Terryland Park.
With Shamrock Rovers beating Drogheda United in Tallaght, the result means that it’s the defending champions who now go into next week’s final games trailing by two points.
Galway had already been Bohemians’ bogey side before, this season, taking seven out of nine points from the champions before this game despite their own continuing struggles in the league.
Last night, the Tribesman were obliged to field a weakened side, minus key players like Karl Sheppard and Stephen O’Donnell, and could have been forgiven if they already had one eye on their upcoming relegation play-off.
For their part, Bohemians were without the suspended Killian Brennan, with Mark Quigley coming in as a straight swap on the left flank. And although Mark Rossiter was ruled out by injury, they had the not inconsiderable consolation of being able to welcome back experienced club captain Owen Heary at right-full.
In a poor attendance at Terryland Park, the visitors could also call on the bulk of the support in a crowd of just over 1,000, as a sizeable contingent travelled from Dublin in the hope of seeing their side wrap up the title with a game to spare.
Of course, that partly depended on Drogheda doing them a whopping favour in Tallaght but, kicking off 15 minutes ahead of that game, Bohs could only concentrate on getting their own job done.
And, after 11 minutes, that task was suddenly harder than they could ever have envisaged. In what was Galway’s first encroachment into the Bohs box, striker Jason Molloy was crudely obstructed by Ken Oman and after referee Thomas Connolly had pointed to the spot, Derek O’Brien coolly converted to give the underdogs a shock lead.
Bohemians were both shaken and stirred. First, Galway had Barry Ryan to thank as the ‘keeper made a fine save to deny Mark Quigley after a fluent passing move had opened up the home defence and then, moments later, Ryan could only look on in relief as Raffaele Cretaro’s powerful shot crashed back off an upright.
But, with Bohs keeping up the pressure, there was to be no reprieve for Galway in the 25th minute as, from Owen Heary’s cross, Paul Keegan took advantage of generous time and space in the box to direct a powerful and precise header into the far corner of Ryan’s net.
Bohs had to send on Chris O’Connor between the posts after Barry Murphy was forced to withdraw but – despite an ambitious effort by Gary Curran to catch the sub ‘keeper off his line with a long-range effort – the bulk of the action was at the other end as Bohs continued to press in search of the lead.
But in a sensational couple of minutes just before the break, the game swung one way and then the other. First Brian Shelley got caught out by a routine long ball and, under pressure from Molloy, it looked like he’d put through his own goal although it was the Galway striker who was credited with the decisive touch in steering the ball past the stranded O’Connor.
But almost immediately at the other end, Mark Quigley’s trickery sucked Tom King into a rash foul in the box, and Jason Byrne stepped up to smash the resultant penalty into the roof of the net.
The half-time break provided a pause for breath in what had become a pulsating and wholly unpredictable game, with Bohemians generally playing the better football but always looking vulnerable at the back whenever the lively Jason Molloy was around.
And bang on the hour mark, a terrific one-two between Molloy and Tom King gave the latter a clear sight of goal only for Chris O’Connor to brilliantly tip his effort over the top. Next, it was the turn of Barry Ryan to foil Jason Byrne at point-blank range as an end-to-end game assumed the character of a cup tie, with Galway giving everything up in their role as unlikely giant-killers.
With 20 minutes remaining, the news spread that Shamrock Rovers had broken the deadlock in Tallaght, adding even extra urgency to Bohs’ already frantic efforts to get their noses in front in Terryland Park.
When substitute Paddy Madden could only volley over the top from an inviting position there was a sense that Bohs had spurned one chance too many but a bad night was made even worse for the champions in the final minute, when man of match Molloy showed skill and composure in the box to beat O’ Connor from close range and ensure that it would be Shamrock Rovers who go into the final game of the campaign as hot favourites to lift the title.
GALWAY UNITED: Ryan, King (Keane 73), McKenzie, Sinnott (Kelly 45), Meynell, Reilly, Keane, Conneely, Curran (Sheppard 81), O’ Brien, Molloy
BOHEMIANS: Murphy, Heary, Oman, Shelley, Powell, McGlynn, Cronin (Higgins 24), Keegan, Quigley, Cretaro (Madden 67), Byrne.
Referee: Thomas Connolly (Dublin)
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