Shamrock Rovers 2 Cork City 0
Shamrock Rovers had substitute Thomas Stewart to thank as his superb 20-minute cameo catapulted the Hoops into the last eight of the FAI Cup, knocking Cork City out in the process at Tallaght Stadium.
Only on the pitch a matter of seconds, Stewart scored with his first touch after Gary McCabe’s ball into the area was knocked on towards the striker by fellow substitute Billy Dennehy and with the Cork defence all at sea, he slotted home from close range to finally break the deadlock.
As for the second, which arrived seven minutes later, it will be hard to see it bettered for the remainder of the campaign. More than 30 yards out, Stewart’s venomous effort rattled the crossbar before landing over the line, leaving City stopper Mark McNulty with nothing to do but admire an unstoppable strike.
This was, in every manner, a massive result for Rovers. With Sligo Rovers being held to a draw at St Pat’s, keeping their slim hopes of retaining the league title alive, this win, though it was in the cup, will no doubt build further momentum.
“We needed this result. Overall, we played much better than when we drew 1-1 with Cork in the league,” Rovers boss Stephen Kenny said.
“We didn’t play too well tonight, we had a good bit of the ball but not much penetration. But we needed that result, it’s a huge one for us.”
While the cliché of cup games being more openly contested so often rings true, this one was both tentative and scrappy for most of the opening hour.
Cork threatened first when Vinny Sullivan shot wide after taking a heavy touch following Daryl Horgan’s pass but Rovers enjoyed more of the ball without breaching the visitors’ defence, a pair of Ronan Finn strikes from distance the best they could muster in the opening 15 minutes.
Granted, the conditions weren’t exactly conducive to a decent game of ball, as McNulty displayed when he almost spilled an unthreatening McCabe cross into his own net, only to recover at the second time of asking, near the half-hour mark, but watching the first period was an endurance test for those who did brave the rain.
That a wild Gary McCabe free-kick which curled off target on 34 was the most excitable moment since the opening minutes said it all. Too often passes went astray and there was a frightening lack of cohesion in the play of both sides throughout.
It did finish a bit livelier heading towards the break, Gary Twigg going close with a glancing header from Kerrea Gilbert’s cross, while at the other end Gearóid Morrissey and Davin O’Neill had half-chances which failed to bother Oscar Jansson.
The second half did start a bit more promisingly, Ronan Finn drilling inches off target three minutes in for the home side before Chris Turner forced McNulty into a good save seconds later.
Cork produced a couple of opportunities too, Daryl Horgan volleying over from eight yards after a nice cross from Davin O’Neill after 53 minutes, with the latter then giving Oscar Jansson something to ponder with a punt towards the near post.
But when the opening goal arrived with just over 20 minutes to play, there was only ever going to be one winner, Rovers closing out the game without ever being put under much pressure — Stewart’s second goal being the icing on the cake.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Jansson; Gilbert, Sives, Hawkins, Powell; Turner (Dennehy 63), Rice, Finn, McCabe (McCormack 85); Kilduff (Stewart 68), Twigg.
CORK CITY: McNulty; N Horgan (Kenny 84), Kavanagh, K Murray, Murphy; D Horgan, G Morrissey, Duggan, O’Neill; Parker, Sullivan (Turner 70).
Referee: Padraigh Sutton (Clare).
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