Friday, March 13, 2009

Shamrock Rovers 2-1 Sligo Rovers: The Night Football Finally Came Home...

Shamrock Rovers beat Sligo Rovers 2-1 tonight in Tallaght and made a little bit of history while they were at it.

Michael O'Neill's men overcame the "Bit O'Red" on a brutal winters night that heralded the opening home game of the coming summer soccer season and the first real home game for the Hoops in over 22 years.

With only one side of the ground complete, the wind swept through the pitch making the conditions hard for either team to get the ball down and play it.

The heavy rain also made it a tough night for the players to master; the mere weather was never going to be the deciding factor that would undo Rovers on this historic night.

Rovers started the match like their lives depended on it. Man-of-the-match and Rovers' captain Shane Robinson burst through a static Sligo midfield after two minutes and played in ex-Derby player Gary Twigg who slotted the ball home, but he was correctly ruled offside and the goal did not stand.

The Hoops continued to push Sligo and had the match been in a boxing ring the referee might have called it early, Sligo completely unable to get out of their own box.

Rovers adjusted to the weather and the massive pitch far quicker than Sligo. After a number of close shaves, it came as no surprise to see the Hoops go one up after a well worked free kick.

Stephen Bradley's deep free kick was headed back across the goal by Stephen Rice to Twigg, who rolled the defender superbly before volleying into the top corner of the far post.

Fitting that the first goal to be scored at the new stadium was a great goal by a Shamrock Rovers' player.

Twigg then had another goal over-ruled by the referee, after he was harshly adjudged to have pushed Danny Ventre in the 26th minute.

By this stage, Sligo was being overrun; Rovers were playing some beautiful football and was spreading the Sligo team across the vast pitch.

One-on-one situations were being created at every chance, the intelligent runs of Dessie Baker, now a veteran of the league, pulled an already threadbare defence asunder. Ollie Cahill's powerful runs down the left had Jason Noctor scrambling for cover at every chance.

It became only a matter of when would Rovers score next.

Sligo made it to halftime only one down, and Paul Cook had some serious surgery to perform, if they were to get anything from this game.

Rovers started the second half in the same vein, unfortunately for Sligo, so did they.

The onslaught continued, Rovers inching closer to a second by the minute. Eventually, Robinson found Cahill in space; he beat two players and carried the ball to the backline, where he cut it back for Baker who had the simple task of scoring from six yards.

Rovers was two up.

Cook then decided to wield the axe and made three substitutions, and their effect was immediate. Sligo began to edge back into the game, exertions of the past hour beginning to take their toll on Rovers.

However, O'Neill countered by changing the set up of the Rovers' team and normal programming resumed. Robinson going close from fully 40 yards with a rasping shot, before Twigg's beautifully curled shot from the edge of the box took the paintwork off the far post.

With the game running down, Sligo broke away and Gavin Peer scored a lovely header, after great work from Owen Morrison and Benin international Romuald Boco. But it was too little, too late.

An elated O'Neill took to the pitch on the final whistle with the Rovers faithful at full voice. The players were given a standing ovation from the crowd, grown men wept with joy as the Hoops recorded their first home win in 22 years.

A night to remember.

twitter / WillieGannon