Shamrock Rovers 4-1 Bray Wanderers
To be withdrawn before half-time is usually the ultimate humiliation for a footballer. He is not given the opportunity to defend his lame display of the past 45 minutes in the confines of the dressing room. The manager lets the world know what he makes of the player in question’s contribution. Even if the change is tactical, it is still a source of major embarrassment. At Tallaght Stadium on Friday night, we saw an exception to the rule. Shamrock Rovers’ Gary Twigg was withdrawn in first-half injury-time to a standing ovation from all sides of the ground, after a masterful centre-forward’s display that left Bray Wanderers begging for mercy.
The 26 year-old Scotsman didn’t give the Bray defence a moment’s peace during his three-quarters of an hour on the field. Even the for the opening goal, unfortunately bundled into his own net by left-back Sean Houston, it seemed the fact Twigg may have been sniffing around had the Seagull’s back-four in a spin. He had already struck the Bray crossbar, taking a Dan Murray flick-on and hitting an improvised effort over his right shoulder onto the woodwork. All this within the first 13 minutes.
Midfielder Stephen Rice doubled the Hoops advantage 23 minutes in, making a lung-bursting run from deep during a Rovers’ breakaway to fire home from Twigg’s selfless pass. Four minutes later, a static Wanderers’ defence were caught napping again, as Twigg ghosted in to slot past the beleaguered Matt Gregg. Cente-backs Shane O’Connor and Derek Prendergast were given a torrid evening by Twigg’s movement and strike partner’s Neal Fenn constantly dropping off into space to receive possession. Rovers’ right-back James Chambers was bombing forward at every opportunity, giving Heuston plenty of headaches throughout the evening.
Moments before the interval, it was four, with Fenn sliding Twigg through, who drew the keeper before nonchalantly nudging the ball past the hapless Gregg. The gap between the top and bottom of the League of Ireland Premier Division was there for all to see. Throughout the opening period, there was relentless pressure from the Hoops, with Bray offering little threat. Jake Kelly dragged an effort wide in Wanderers’ only opening of any sort.
Following Twigg’s and Murray’s, withdrawn at half-time, departures, the second half was played at a pedestrian pace, unsurprisingly given Rover’s forthcoming game against UCD on Monday evening. Bray, to their credit, did not let their heads drop, and did give Hoops stopper Alan Mannus some duties in the latter stages. Kelly had a couple of opportunities, but failed to hit the target.
They were finally rewarded in the 89th minute, with midfielder Gary Dempsey scoring with a low strike from just outside the area. Mannus seemed was irate his clean sheet had been spoiled, but manager Michael O’Neill have delighted in his side’s performance, particularly in the opening period. Five points clear at the top of chasing pack, a first league title in 16 years is a real possibility.