By Killian McHale
Shamrock Rovers picked up another valuable three points with a hard-fought win over Sligo Rovers in Tallaght on Friday night, with goals from Johnny Kenny & Trevor Clarke maintaining Rovers recent unbeaten streak.
Stephen Bradley named an unchanged side from last Friday’s Dublin Derby win against St. Patrick’s Athletic in Inchicore – the first time this season Rovers have lined out with the same starting eleven in back-to-back games
In the early stages of the game, Neil Farrugia was causing problems for Sligo down the Rovers right wing, having a cross that just evaded everyone within the first five minutes, before finding Graham Burke with a pull-back after 15 minutes, only for Burke to have his goal-bound effort blocked by Sligo captain, Greg Bolger.
The Hoops’ pressure eventually paid off in the 19th minute, when Rovers opened the scoring through former Sligo man, Johnny Kenny. After a passage of play deep inside the Rovers half, a long clearance found its way in behind the Sligo defence which Kenny latched onto, beating Nando Pijnaker for pace, before calmly side-footing into the top right-hand corner of the Sligo goal to give the Hoops the lead.
Sligo looked to find a way back into the game after this opener, with the trio of Mata, Livak & Fitzgerald all being constant thorns in the Rovers defence. On the 25th-minute mark, Fitzgerald got beyond Trevor Clarke down the Sligo left-wing, before finding Mata with space on the edge of the box. However, Mata failed to generate enough power on his shot, which Alan Mannus comfortably claimed to relieve the danger.
Minutes before half-time, Mata came inches away from levelling the scoring. After Kailin Barlow dispossessed Markus Poom just outside the Rovers box, the loose ball fell to Mata whose first-time effort flashed narrowly wide of Alan Mannus’ left-hand post.
It took a while in the second half for both teams to reach the intensity of the first, with substitute Richie Towell having the first real chance of the half on the hour mark, volleying straight into the hands of Luke McNicholas in the Sligo goal from a Jack Byrne cross.
Moments later, Trevor Clarke came to the rescue for Rovers at the other end of the pitch, intercepting Livak just at the moment as he was about to shoot inside the Rovers 18-yard box after a smart through-ball by Pijnaker.
And Clarke went from hero at one end of the pitch to hero at the other end, when he doubled Rovers’ lead just minutes later. Jack Byrne picked up the ball just inside the Rovers half, before playing an inch-perfect through ball for Trevor Clarke to run onto and fire beyond McNicholas in front of the South Stand to give Rovers some breathing space.
However, this lead didn’t last for long, as former Hoop Greg Bolger halved the deficit with an effort from 25 yards that deflected into the Rovers net off Roberto Lopes to give the away fans a glimmer of hope.
Sligo pushed forward in the remaining 20 minutes, looking for that important equaliser. But that left gaps and opportunities at the other end and with ten minutes to go they were thanking Pijnaker in the heart of their defence, as he managed to tackle substitute Aaron Greene inside the Sligo box just as the Rovers attacker was about to shoot.
Mata, Livak & Cawley all had chances blocked inside the Rovers box in the final couple of minutes before the golden chance was missed by Mata with two minutes of normal time remaining. Cawley’s corner kick found Mata at the front post, who headed inches over Alan Mannus crossbar when he really should’ve found the back of the net.
The Hoops managed to see out the final minutes to pick up another huge 3 points to reduce the gap at the top to four points.
Next up for the Hoops is a trip to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium to face an in form Derry City side on Monday evening. Kick-off at 7:15 pm.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Cleary, Lopes ©, Grace; Farrugia, O’Neill, Poom (57’ Towell), Clarke; Byrne, Burke (83’ Nugent), Kenny (72’ Greene).
Shamrock Rovers Unused Substitutes: Leon Pohls (GK), Sean Hoare, Justin Ferizaj, Gideon Tetteh, Conan Noonan, Naj Razi.
Sligo Rovers: McNicholas; Brannefalk (78’ Cawley), Clancy (66’ Lafferty), Pijnaker, Hutchinson; Morahan, Bolger © (78’ Lagerfeldt), Barlow (59’ Radosavlevic); Livak, Mata, Fitzgerald.
Sligo Rovers Unused Substitutes: Richard Brush (GK), Eli Rooney, John Vahey, Owen Elding.