Shamrock Rovers 3 Cork City 0
A goal-of-the-season contender from Graham Burke and a couple of save of the season contenders by Kevin Horgan helped Shamrock Rovers to this long-awaited and hugely morale-boosting victory, as the wheels came off in spectacular fashion for champions Cork City who, as a result of last night’s proceedings in the Premier Division, now see their great rivals Dundalk regain the lead in the table on goal difference.
The form stats had strongly favoured City coming into this one, a four-game winning streak without conceding a goal in the league having propelled them to the top of the table on the back of last Friday’s 1-0 over the Lilywhites at Turner’s Cross.
In start contrast, Rovers were searching for a first win at the seventh attempt, despite dominating away to Derry City last Friday and, in a game which ended scoreless, becoming the first side to take a point off the Candystripes at the Brandywell this season.
Under pressure Hoops manager Stephen Bradley had repeatedly argued his team’s performances were better than their results, and he certainly got both last night as a terrific collective performance, crowned by a few outstanding individual contributions, put Cork to the sword.
Striker Dan Carr was suspended for the home side, with Gary Shaw starting in his place, while Kieran Sadlier and Garry Buckley both returned to the Cork starting line-up. The occasion also saw the brothers Horgan – Kevin for Rovers and Colm for City – on opposing sides. But it is the Hoops ‘keeper who will retain by far the happier memories of this night.
Under blue skies in Tallaght, the contest got off to an explosive start. Ireland manager Martin O’Neill had just taken his seat in the stand when, with barely two and a half minutes on the clock, Graham Burke scored what will surely be regarded as one of the goals of the season, first getting the better of Conor McCormack in the middle of the park and then advancing a couple of yards before unleashing a right-footed screamer which left City ‘keeper Mark McNulty clutching at thin air as the ball absolutely ripped into the top corner.
It was the first goal City had conceded in four league games and just the kind of early lift the Rovers’ faithful needed after their team’s recent struggles.
They were also pleased to see impressive young midfielder Aaron Bolger winning a crunching 50-50 challenge with Cork skipper McCormack as the home side continued to have much the better of things against the visitors who, though seeing plenty of the ball, seemed laboured in everything they did.
And in the 23rd minute, the Hoops were two up. This time, Graham Burke turned provider, his corner – whipped in low and hard – converted with a flick at the near post by Ethan Boyle, who was quicker to react than anyone in City’s uncharacteristically porous defence.
Though their level of performance left a lot to be desired, City really should have been back in the game on the half-hour mark, after a lofted Sadlier free found Buckley unmarked in the box, but Kevin Horgan got down quickly to keep out the Cork man’s first-time volley with a one-handed save almost on his goal line.
And right on the stroke of half-time, the Rovers ‘keeper outdid even that with a remarkable double-save from first Graham Cummins and then Barry McNamee when the latter, in particular, appeared certain to score on the rebound from close range.
John Caulfield opted for radical surgery at half-time, a double-substitution seeing Karl Sheppard and Jimmy Keohane replacing Danny Kane and Conor McCormack.
But though there was a bit more pep in City’s step in the second half, it was Rovers who put the result beyond doubt in the 61st minute, Roberto Lopes forcing the ball home at the far post after the Cork defence failed to deal with another free kick from man of the match Burke.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Horgan, O’Brien, Boyle, Lopes, Grace, G Bolger, Finn (Miele 81), Kavanagh, A Bolger, Burke (McAllister 73), Shaw.
CORK CITY: McNulty, Horgan, McLoughlin, McCarthy, Kane (Keohane 45), Morrissey (O’Hanlon 66) McCormack (Sheppard 45), McNamee, Cummins.
Referee: Robert Rogers (Dublin)
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