By Matthew Foley
Shamrock Rovers extended their lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League after a dominant display against Finn Harps at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday evening. A brace from Neil Farrugia along with goals from Rory Gaffney, Andy Lyons and Jack Byrne mean the Hoops are now four points clear of second place Derry City with a game in hand.
It was Rovers who started the game brightly, dominating possession from the get-go in search of an early goal which took just eight minutes to arrive. A slick move involving Jack Byrne, Aaron Greene and Andy Lyons resulted in the latter’s effort being parried back into the danger area, where Neil Farrugia reacted quickest to slot home his first goal for the Hoops in almost two years.
The Hoops remained on top of the game, putting pressure on the Harps’ defence as they searched for a second goal. As we entered the final 10 minutes of the first half, Ryan Rainey was adjudged to have fouled Aaron Greene foul in the box, with referee Derek Tomney having no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Rory Gaffney stepped up and made no mistake, confidently dispatching his spot-kick into the bottom left corner of the goal for his eighth league goal of the season to double the Hoops lead.
There was still time for Rovers to add two more goals before the halftime whistle. This time Gaffney turned provider as he squared the ball to Andy Lyons who finished first time past McKeown to score his ninth goal of the season. The Hoops were in their groove and the fourth goal would arrive two minutes before the break when Jack Byrne played a brilliant disguised pass through to Farrugia who fired into the Harps net for his second goal of the game. It was a clinical display from the Hoops who showed ruthlessness in front of goal. The halftime whistle was welcomed by those of a Harps persuasion.
Stephen Bradley made two changes at the break with Aidomo Emakhu and new signing Viktor Serdeniuk replacing Andy Lyons & Aaron Greene. But it was Harps’ halftime substitute that would get on the scoresheet next, as Jordanian international Jaime Siaj’s strike across Mannus found the corner of the net to get Harps off the mark. Just minutes later Harps had another opportunity to further reduce the deficit through that man Siaj again but his instinctive effort hit the crossbar and went over. A warning sign that the game and three points were not yet secure.
That five-minute spell for the visitors appeared to give the Hoops a kick they needed to get going again and moments later they added a fifth. Aidomo Emakhu’s glancing header was well saved by McKeown, but he could only parry into the path of Byrne who had the simplest of finishes to make it 5-1 and put the result beyond doubt.
Rovers had the luxury of introducing further fresh legs off the bench with Gideon Tetteh & Simon Power, making their League debuts, and Graham Burke, returning from injury, all introduced to play out the remaining minutes as Stephen Bradley started to turn his attention to Thursday.
It was a ruthless display from the Hoops who secured a vital three points to maintain their unbeaten home record. Next is a return to UECL action with a trip to Belgium to face KAA Gent on Matchday 2 of Group F.
Shamrock Rovers: A Mannus, S Gannon, D Cleary, L Grace, N Farrugia (S Power 65’), S Kavanagh, G O’Neill (G Tetteh 65’), A Lyons (V Serdeniuk 45’), J Byrne, R Gaffney (G Burke 65’); A Greene (A Emakhu 45’).
Subs not used: L Pohls, J Ferizaj, R Finn; C McCann.
Booked: G O’Neill.
Finn Harps: J McKeown, G Boylan (H Nicolson 72’), E Boyle, R Slevin (J Carrillo 86’), F Mihaljevic, R Rainey, E N’Zeyi, D Duncan (J Siaj 45’), R Connolly, B McNamee (R Jones 65’); E McWoods (A McCaffrey 86’).
Subs not used: G Mulreany, S O’Donnell L Rudden; M Timlin.
Booked: E McWoods, R Jones, R Rainey; D Duncan.
Referee: Derek Tomney.