Sport

Sparks fly as Rovers steal the points

Waterford FC 1 

Shamrock Rovers 3

There were fireworks but no firepower for Waterford as they return to the relegation zone  with just two games remaining.

The Blues’ survival hopes still hang in the balance, as Shamrock Rovers scored twice in five minutes to extinguish any hopes of an upset - before cementing the result late on.

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John Martin gave Waterford an early lead but goals from Danny Mandroiu (2) and Sean Hoare were enough to steal the three points on offer on a fiery occasion at the RSC.

On a night where the home team were in desperate need of three points, manager Marc Bircham rang the changes from the midweek draw at home to Derry.

Brian Murphy, Shane Griffin, Isaac Tshipamba and Eddie Nolan returned to the starting eleven while Paul Martin, Darragh Power, Junior Quitirna and Ronaldo Green began the night on the bench.

The champions played to their strengths too with a front three of Danny Mandroiu, Aaron Greene and Graham Burke - while Carrick man Lee Grace marshalled the backline, and there was a first league start between the posts for Leon Pöhls.

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History wasn’t on the side of the Blues as they hadn’t defeated Rovers since 2018.

Graham Burke was the first man to try his luck on three minutes but his effort skidded harmlessly wide as both sides attempted to assert themselves upon proceedings.

Marc Bircham’s men carved open their first opportunity of note on six minutes. Phoenix Patterson worked the ball nicely along the left flank before fizzing across to John Martin but he could only connect with air as he attempted to rifle the ball toward goal.

It was to matter little though, as on twelve minutes - the home side took the lead through that same man.

At one end of the field, Rovers striker Aaron Greene somehow managed to fire wide when Sean Gannon’s cross found him free right in front of goal - and from the break down the field, the Blues hit the net.

Jack Stafford floated an opportunistic cross from the left, and a mix up from goalkeeper Pöhls and Lee Grace saw the ball drop to Martin who had the simple task of rolling the ball home into an unguarded net.

Play was interrupted on sixteen minutes following some unsightly scenes which came from the away supporters. Fireworks were set off, some of which hit the roof in the stand, while others exploded out onto the pitch - with one seemingly connecting with Blues midfielder Anthony Wordsworth.

The game was suspended for nine minutes as two Rovers supporters were ejected by Gardaí, and medical personnel made their way over to the stand.

The champions took the impetus when play resumed as they pushed for an equaliser. Danny Mandroiu fizzed a great ball into the area but there was no one on hand to direct the ball goalward.

From a dead ball situation, Neil Farrugia had a free header but his effort was tame and straight at Brian Murphy.

As the game approached half time, Graham Burke twice tried his luck - the first a well driven strike which was turned behind by Murphy, before his second effort was bravely blocked down by the impressive Cameron Evans.

While the first half wasn’t going to be remembered for the football, it was Waterford who went in with the advantage.

The Blues started the second half brightly as they countered in numbers, Stafford and Patterson looking lively on the left flank.

Isaac Tshipamba, who got little pocket change from Roberto Lopes, tried his luck after chopping past Farrugia, but his shot never truly troubled Leon Pöhls.

Junior Quitirna came in for Tshipamba on 55 minutes as the Blues sought the all important second goal. Wordsworth then tried his luck from distance on the volley, but the ball sailed harmlessly wide.

Graham Burke tried his luck again from a free kick on the hour mark but his low effort was another comfortable excursion for Brian Murphy.

The Blues sat slightly deeper as the second half pushed on and defended resolutely with veteran Greg Halford at the forefront, while Jack Stafford used every opportunity to drive his side forward.

A flat performance from the champions certainly didn’t bring any fireworks of their own, and with 25 minutes left, one could only imagine that an onslaught of some sorts would be imminent from Stephen Bradley’s side.

Aaron Greene drove at the Waterford defence on the counter attack on 67 minutes but when forced wide by Halford, he could only muster a tame effort which was easily gathered by Murphy.

Disaster struck for the Blues on 70 minutes when Danny Mandroiu rose highest at the near post from a Dylan Watts corner and his header snuck into the bottom left corner. 1-1 from nothing, and the home side now needed to seek a winner once again.

Shane Griffin was added to the growing injury list fifteen minutes from time and when play resumed, matters got much much worse as Rovers took the lead. A free kick was floated into the area, Brian Murphy came out to meet it but up rose Sean Hoare to glance a header above the ‘keeper. Two goals in five minutes and the inquest began at the back for the Blues.

Tiredness seemed to be creeping in as the home side reached the tail end of their fifth game in a fortnight. As they searched for an equaliser, Junior Quitirna trapped the ball beautifully in the box but sadly his effort was dragged to the left and wide on 78 minutes.

Cameron Evans headed over as the Blues pushed for an equaliser, but Marc Bircham’s men never truly threatened to score - and as men pushed forward late on, Danny Mandroiu raced in behind and slotted the ball into the bottom right corner to compile a miserable night for the Blues.

Waterford return to 9th on goal difference after Finn Harps drew 1-1 with Derry City. The Blues now travel to Longford on Saturday with three points imperative in the bid to beat the drop.

Waterford: Brian Murphy; Cameron Evans, Eddie Nolan, Greg Halford, Jack Stafford; Niall O’Keeffe, Shane Griffin (Darragh Power ‘75), Anthony Wordsworth; Phoenix Patterson, John Martin; Isaac Tshipamba (Junior Quitirna 55’)

Shamrock Rovers: Leon Pöhls; Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace (Max Murphy 60’), Neil Farrugia (Kieran Cruise ‘85); Gary O’Neill, Dylan Watts; Danny Mandroiu, Aaron Greene, Graham Burke

Referee: Rob Hennessy

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