(Monaghan United win 4-3 on penalties)
In a night of sustained drama at Gortakeegan, First Division Monaghan United sent Premier Division Champions Bohemians crashing out of the EA Sports Cup. After a scoreless 90 minutes and goals from Aaron Greene for Bohs and Alan Byrne for the Mons in extra time, United goalkeeper Gabriel Sava pulled off two brilliant penalty shoot-out saves and Karl Bermingham struck the decisive spot kick to round out one of the most memorable nights in the Monaghan club’s recent history.
A Bohemians side three or four players shy of full strength exerted the expected dominance over their opponents for good periods of the game, but United displayed determined resilience to keep the Dublin side at bay and mustered several threatening counter-attacks which could have won them victory in either normal or added time.
Pat Fenlon’s side started the game at a breakneck pace, and might have been ahead in the first couple of minutes when Gary Burke’s volley looked to be heading for the top corner only for a one-handed save from Sava to deny him. Aaron Greene found himself in copious space in the United box soon after but drove over the crossbar.
Monaghan get a grip on the game in midfield after their uncertain start. In the 16th minute they were almost gifted a goal when Bohemians defender Paddy Collins faltered in possession and Karl Bermingham pounced to run clear on goal. Bermingham, however, has not been a regular starter for United in recent games and his rustiness showed with a wayward finish when he found himself with only Chris O’Connor in the Bohs goal to beat.
Mark Quigley threatened to be the Bohemians trump card as the first half progressed. Only an improvised stop by Sava with his leg prevented the striker converting Ruadhri Higgins’ incisive pass after 34 minutes. Quigley also went close to breaking the deadlock as the half neared its end, seizing on Denis Moran’s partially cleared corner and fizzing a drive just over its target.
Sava had to be at his best again to prevent Greene putting Bohemians in front soon after the resumption. But as the half progressed an increasing tension gripped the game and Bohs were visibly frustrated at their failure to make inroads against the composure of the Monaghan defence.
United substitute Philip Donnelly came close as the game entered its final ten minutes of normal time, while a Conor Powell drive from distance was the nearest Bohs came in the same period. The game seemed to swing decisively in the Premier side’s favour five minutes into added time. Sava, excellent until then, badly misread a Niall Flynn back-pass and the error allowed Greene the easiest of finishes to fire Bohemians ahead.
Monaghan could have crumpled, but instead dug deep and mustered good chances for Donnelly and Stefan McKevitt before, with ten minutes remaining, Sean Brennan’s deft cross was met by the flying Alan Byrne for a powerful headed equaliser.
Byrne struck the frame of the goal with the first of United’s spot-kicks in the shoot-out, but Sava’s save from Mark Quigley cancelled the miss out. When Bermingham put United 4-3 ahead, all the pressure was on Aaron Greene and a tame effort saw Sava parry the ball away to secure victory for the First Division side.
Monaghan United: Sava; McMahon (McKevitt 75), Flynn, Collins, Costigan; Brennan, McCrossan (Tierney 46), Byrne, Clancy; Hughes (Donnelly 46), Bermingham.
Subs not used: McMahon, Hanaphy.
Bohemians: O’Connor, Heary, Rossiter, Collins, Powell; Burke (Cretaro 70), Moran (Shelly 103), Higgins, Brennan; Quigley, Greene.
Subs not used: Murphy, Farrell, Dixon.
Referee: Rob Rogers