Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
Football really is a funny old game. Quite how a side as unstructured as Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers managed to avoid defeat on home soil for eight months is anyone’s guess. But surprise was certainly thin on the ground when Darragh Leahy consigned that run to history’s dustbin at the death here.
For Bohemians, now on a three-game derby winning streak of their own, have had Bradley’s number for a while. Aggressive midfield pressing, designed to disrupt Rovers’ pretty build-up play, is merely the latest example.
Sure, Dan Byrne — playing in central midfield thanks to a Gypsies injury crisis — should have seen yellow for a series of over-exuberant first half “challenges”. But the defender-by-trade was central to the smother-job perpetrated by Bohs on the Hoops engine room.
Middle third turnovers by the bucketful created chances to probe the channels, behind Bradley’s aggressively positioned full-backs. And the likes of Keith Buckley and Dylan Watts weren’t shy in taking them.
Danny Grant, for example, should have scored in the 4th minute after skinning Ally Gilchrist down the right channel. And, later, Eoghan Stokes got in down the left, forcing Kevin Horgan to triple save from JJ Lunney and Keith Ward.
Here, on the left-flank, is where Long really missed a first half trick. With Boyle continually dragged inside by Ward, and Sean Kavanagh prone to inward sorties himself, Leahy always had space to run into. The Bohs manager, who only belatedly bestowed freedom upon his full-backs during February’s triumphant reverse fixture, instead showed his conservative side again. Leahy, mostly stayed at home.
Buckley, too, found his forward momentum restrained. Although a late — rare — overlap, past the leaden-footed Brandon Miele, hinted at the possibilities Long was passing up. Fed by the promising Grant, the former Bray Wanderer’s low cross caught Stokes on his heels.
Meanwhile, Dan Carr’s opener aside, Rovers’ congested attack was proving utterly craftless. Almost totally reliant upon the full-backs to stretch the play, the Hoops barely laid a glove on Bohs’ makeshift defence. Only wide runs from central midfielders Ronan Finn and Graham Burke posed Long’s side a problem. And it was the latter’s right-touchline cross that Carr peeled off Rob Cornwall to turn in.
As for the Rovers full-backs, upon whom so much attacking onus is placed, it’s difficult to say anything charitable. Boyle, a late Simon Madden replacement necessitated by Bradley’s ham-handed Sean Gannon pursuit, is never going to be up to the task. And although Luke Byrne mostly bested Grant, the left-back did find himself pinned back by the only conventional winger on the pitch.
Not to mention that Grant should have had a penalty from Byrne early in the second-half. Grant’s confidence looked shaken by that early miss, but the Leinster Senior League alumnus improved as the game progressed — eventually setting up Leahy’s clincher. Hype that ensued after the 18-year-old’s cameo against Dundalk — in which he was also denied a stonewall penalty — may not be misplaced. Just ask Cabinteely.
Bradley tried to go with a conventional winger of his own on 55, switching southpaw Kavanagh out left, and hooking Miele for Joel Coustrain. But Kavanagh’s presence did not stop Buckley, once the right-back shed Long’s reins. Nor did Coustrain, bright in attack, prove capable of tracking an unrestrained Leahy.
Both full-backs also rained crosses upon Limerick’s defence last week — in vain, as it turned out, due to Dinny Corcoran’s injury-enforced absence. Limited to 11 minutes last Friday, the target man got 30 here, releasing Stokes to recreate his opening day left-wing magic with Leahy.
Leahy’s first significant overlap — and cross — saw Horgan fluff a punch at the back post, with Corcoran lurking. And the towering striker perhaps should have added to Dan Byrne’s equaliser on 79, when Stokes teed up yet another Leahy cross.
Byrne, by the way, ghosted off Ronan Finn’s back to cushion home Watts’ wonderful on-the-run cross. Burke, Watts’ notional minder, was nowhere near tight enough to the former UCD man, whose over-eagerness occasionally let down an otherwise impressive performance.
Rovers’ complete lack of central midfield structure, that often leaves Greg Bolger — or one of his stand-ins — stranded is another chronic problem Bradley has shown no willingness to resolve. Perhaps, then, fatigue explains Bolger’s failure to stop Grant’s weak 99th-minute cross at the near-post.
Coustrain, far fresher, has no such excuse for allowing Leahy in to enrapture his side’s travelling support — whose pathetic hold-me-back standoff with a smattering of Hoops fans encouraged comparisons to Bradley’s recent media spat with fellow overachiever Alan Cawley.
Speaking of achievement, it surely won’t be long now before the Rovers junta realises the truth behind one of this page’s most well-worn cries — the Tallaght side will win nothing significant with Bradley at its helm.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112