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Michael O’Neill’s Shamrock Rovers put in a five goal performance to put more pressure on league leaders Sligo Rovers. The Tallaght side needed a win against mid table Bray Wanderers if they wanted to go level with league leaders Sligo Rovers and make the most of one of two games in hand.
It was a scrappy opening period as a high number of free kicks broke the game up the flow of the game. Neither side managed to get any meaningful efforts on goal as both defences seemed to deal with all attacks comfortably.
This changed however, on ten minutes when Gary O’Neill forced his former Sporting Fingal teammate Darren Quigley to save well when he headed towards the top corner. Pat O’Sullivan and Shane O’Connor both picked up soft yellow cards early on as Richie Winter tried to keep a hold on proceedings.
It took twenty six minutes for the deadlock to be broken when Gary Dempsey’s corner was punched clear by Richard Brush but it only went to the edge of the box and after Rovers failed to clear their lines Jake Kelly powered home from the edge of the box.
Then with ten minutes to go in the half Wanderers were dealt a massive blow when O’Connor was shown a red card for a second bookable offence after he fouled McCabe.
And to add insult to injury Director of Football Pat Devlin was sent to the stands for his protests against the referee’s decision. This gave Rovers a lifeline as Bray were on top up until that point.
With just one minute left in the half Rovers made the most of their one man advantage when McCabe was left free just inside the Seagulls box and he smashed home the ball to level the game and to give his side a massive boost going in at the break.
Bray will have been devastated to be level at the break as they had played well enough to deserve a one goal lead. McCabe’s goal had clearly inspired the Hoops as they went straight on the attack in the second half and within just five minutes found themselves ahead.
Kelly fouled McCabe on the corner of the penalty area and Rovers were awarded a free kick. Rohan Ricketts stepped up and delicately curled his effort into Quigley’s bottom left hand corner.
This was just the start of a Rovers blitz as less than ten minutes later McCabe scored his second when he ghosted infield and struck the ball into the bottom corner to extend his sides lead.
Throughout the tie Gary Twigg had a number of chances to beat Quigley but the Seagulls shot stopper frustrated the Scot time and time again.
However, the former Sporting Fingal keeper could not do anything when McCabe put his old teammate Ronan Finn through on goal. Finn calmly slotted past Quigley to bring the score to 4-1 with half an hour still to go in the half.
Michael O’Neill made all three changes late on as he had one eye on next week’s trip to London to take on Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League.
This inevitably had an effect on the game as Rovers attack began to slow while the new players got up to the pace of the game.
However, this didn’t stop the Hoops adding a fifth when a minute into stoppage time Twigg finally got the better of Quigley when he headed into the corner to round off Rovers scoring.
It was Bray who ended the scoring, as Jake Kelly found the net to give his side a consolation goal with just seconds left in the fixture. The win leaves Rovers level with Sligo on points and with a game in hand as they look to close in on another league title.
Shamrock Rovers: Richard Brush; Pat Sullivan (Enda Stevens 72), Jim Paterson, Dan Murray, Conor McCormack; Gary McCabe (Billy Dennehy 72), Chris Turner, Ronan Finn, Rohan Ricketts (Karl Sheppard 78); Gary Twigg, Gary O’Neill.
Subs Not Used: Stephen Rice, Stephen O’Donnell, Ciaran Kilduff, Craig Hyland.
Bookings: Sullivan (14).
Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; Shane O’Connor, Dane Massey, Derek Prendergast, Adam Mitchell; Gary Dempsey, Dan McGuinness (David Webster 41), Sean Houston, Chris Shields (Danny O’Connor 55); Jake Kelly, Conor Murphy (John Mulroy 74).
Subs Not Used: Kevin Knight, Dean Zambra, Gary Shaw, Brian Kane.
Bookings: S O'Connor (18), Shields (46), J Kelly (48), Mitchell (64).
Sent Off: S O'Connor (35).
Referee: Richie Winter.
Attendance: 3,500 (Estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Conor McCormack.