Shamrock Rovers, can it get any worse?

11 Sep

 

Since my last blog  “What’s Gone Wrong With Shamrock Rovers?” in July, let’s see how things have panned out.  The news my friends isn’t good, in fact it’s anything but good despite the club being in the League Cup Final against Drogheda United and the last 8 of the FAI Cup against Shelbourne, with that quarter final this Friday, September 14.

Since that last blog following the listless and limp exit from Europe to FK Ekranas (Ekranas were beaten 11-0 over the two legs to Anderlect in the following round), Rovers travelled to Derry and won 1-0 with a stunning Ronan Finn strike settling the match.  That rare win in the Brandywell can be tempered by Derry’s home record this season, 6 defeats as I write, so The Brandywell hasn’t been much of a fortress this season, in a similar way to Rovers home form (draws rather than defeats being the norm in Rovers case).

An improvement in Rovers’ defensive performances continued at Belfield with a 2-0 win over UCD and August would actually be Rovers best run of form all season.  A second string Rovers defeated Limerick 4-1 in the League Cup Semi Final, a match notable for the scoring return of injury-ravaged Ciaran Kilduff.

Next up was make or break for Rovers title aspirations as leaders Sligo Rovers came to Tallaght. Rovers showed an improvement in the overall performance, coming from behind to a stunning strike from Sligo’s Quigley to earn a 1-1 draw with a second half screamer from Finn raising the roof at Tallaght.  It was a match Rovers had to win however and they never looked like doing so and it finished 1-1.

 Another clean sheet in the League was recorded with a third successive win on the road.  First half goals from the now fully fit Kilduff and another sublime solo goal from the superb Ronan Finn was enough to see off a faltering Drogheda United (although Drogs would subsequently get a second wind in their League form).  A decent August finished with two wins in a week over Cork City.  First up was a 2-0 FAI Cup win in front of the RTE cameras at home.  A fairly dire match was decided by the returned Tommy Stewart who scored two goals in five minutes as a second half substitute and the month finished with a 2-1 away win at Turner’s Cross.  Despite going behind early, Finn (yet again) and a Gary McCabe free kick was enough to keep Rovers improved away form intact.   It was to prove a false dawn however………

“Silverware” was landed in the form of the Leinster Senior Cup as a very young Rovers XI defeated a brave and plucky St Patricks/CY team 1-0 in Tallaght, Aaron Greene’s 83rd minute goal being the decider, but as I write now, two successive League games at home have yielded one point in two Dublin Derby matches.

Shelbourne came to Tallaght and in the first 45 minutes gave an abject display, but Rovers were unable to score more than 1 goal in the first half, with Kilduff racing on to Stewart’s pass, rounding the keeper and coolly scoring.  It seemed the Rovers attitude in the second half was that Shelbourne would roll over, but that’s not how it panned out.  Former Hoop Paddy Kavanagh raced through a square Rovers defence to equalise early 2nd half and as Rovers struggled to get any rhythm going in that half, it was no real surprise when Shels went ahead in the 78th minute following an elementary error by Craig Sives.

It was left to that man Finn (head and shoulders Rovers’ best player this season) to rescue a point for Rovers with a swift equaliser, but yet again at home, Rovers couldn’t find a winner, nor really looked likely to.  Indeed, Shels should’ve won it at the death, Kavanagh again beating a square Hoops defence but as he rounded Jansson, he allowed Sives to atone for his earlier blunder to hook the ball off the line and preserve a point.   Shels are a poor team, this was a very poor point.

Just as I thought however things couldn’t get much worse this season, they did.

Bohs had beaten Rovers 4-0 on June 29.  No motivation was required among Rovers fans, none should’ve been required among the players, we had to put June 29 right.  It didn’t happen.

After a listless 25 minutes from the Champions, Rovers had a decent 15 minute spell to near half time, Stewart’s thundering drive off the underside of the Bohs bar being the closest to scoring.  In the 44th minute however, Jansson dropped a  harmless Bohs free kick from a standing start with nobody around him and the Devanney scored from 6 yards for Bohs.  While Jansson’s form had improved after a disastrous start, you have to be able to rely on a keeper.  Jansson’s error would be one you might see in Junior or Schoolboy football, but this a Swedish Under 21 international who only 12 months ago was on Tottenham’s payroll.  A dreadful, embarrassing and critical error, one of far too many for a keeper playing for Shamrock Rovers FC, it’s just not good enough.

Bohs then had something to protect and they did it admirably.  Twigg’s overhead kick against the bar was the closest Rovers came in the 2nd half, with much huffing and puffing and an increasing amount of bitching, gesticulating and spoiled child antics among too many Rovers players.  The game petered out from a Rovers point of view and Bohs had their first win in Tallaght at the 8th attempt and the Rovers faithful trudged out of Tallaght in a depressingly familiar pattern of disbelief, anger and bad language.

I’ve commented on Stephen Kenny in the previous blog, below is my “school report” on how I’ve viewed Rovers’ players performances this season:

Oscar Jansson:  Dreadful start in his Rovers career with a shaky opening game in Drogheda followed by a calamitous error in Cork.  Has lacked physical presence in my opinion and while his form improved in July and August after a nightmare game in the 4-0 Bohs drubbing, his blunder in the last Bohs match was the final nail in his coffin for me.  Talented but far too error-prone to be relied upon.

Reyaad Pieterse:  Very unlucky in his debut in the Setanta Cup game at home to Derry when he was sent off after 10 minutes, but when he got his chance after Jansson was dropped for the League game in Sligo, he also fluffed his lines.  Far more imposing physically than Jansson, we may see what he’s about if Jansson gets bombed out, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Kerrea Gilbert:  Looked a decent signing given his Premier League upbringing at Arsenal and after a couple of reasonable early performances, looked increasingly unsure and profligate in possession and defensively suspect.  A massive let-down for me and won’t last at Rovers.

Conor Powell:  Very poor opening to the season but improved in terms of his ability on the ball, but defensively he has been dreadful.  Regularly caught out of position from diagonal balls and at fault for several crucial goals conceded.  Not nearly an able replacement for the admittedly outstanding Enda Stevens.

Pat Sullivan:  A mid-season recapture after returning from a short emigration to Australia.   Hasn’t recaptured his outstanding 2011 form and looks increasingly irritated and agitated with his own game and what’s going on around him. 

Ken Oman:  Has struggled with injury but another whose form of 2011 completely disappeared when he was playing.  Can’t fault his attitude or honesty but that should be a starting point for everyone, but he’ll know his form has been poor.

Craig Sives:  Hopelessly off form until July/August time but you can’t start a season in July when the damage has been done.  Maybe trying to play through pain given regular reports of struggling with injury, but for a player of his undoubted ability, he has been like Oman, very disappointing.

Colin Hawkins:  Recalled to the side when Oman was injured and when goals were being leaked.   Has been a rare bright spark for me defensively, his experience and competitiveness has been admirable since getting a regular start, even though his pace with age can and will be exposed by speedy forwards.  Can be pleased enough with his season for the games he has played in my opinion.

Graham Gartland:  Has spent most of the season injured but was worryingly unimpressive in the matches he did play given his pedigree and reputation for previous clubs, another big disappointment overall.

Shane O’Connor:  Started only in the last match (at time of writing) against Bohs, but gets a mention here for playing extremely well in that game, always available for the ball, used it well and defensively was excellent, way better than Powell if last night’s performance was anything to go by.

Gary McCabe:  Has mixed the brilliant with the dreadful and retains a petulant and immature streak in terms of discipline.  Far too often makes a great bit of play for himself only to finish with a brainless decision but has weighed in with some fine goals and has been better than many overall.

Ronan Finn:  The one constantly shining light in a dark Rovers season.  His energy, fitness, class and increased eye for a goal has been a joy to watch.   Would probably be the Player of the Year but given Rovers team performances, will be beaten by a player from elsewhere, but will win every Rovers award possible.  We’ll do well to hold onto him next year if England or elsewhere beckons.

Stephen Rice:  Has maintained his 100% application and pride but his body language has displayed increased exasperation at what’s going on this season, but he has been his usual reliable and committed self and can be more satisfied than most this season, definitely one to be retained next season.

Chris Turner:  A shadow of the player we all rated and liked with his eye for a goal and toughness.   Maybe his domestic situation was affecting his mind, became increasingly petulant and ineffective before leaving the club for Dumbarton in August, it’s a pity his final season at Rovers was a poor one  but I’d wish him well.

Billy Dennehy:  Started the season well but as the results went downhill, so did Billy’s form and goal quota.  You usually always get 100% from Billy and often even if he wasn’t playing well, he’d bag a vital goal for you, but this hasn’t happened.   A very disappointing season from Billy but I think he can bounce back next year.

Killian Brennan:  For me, the biggest let-down of a signing in many a year.  For all his experience, ability and goalscoring record, it’s as if his evil twin arrived in Tallaght.   Not much else to say, except he has been rubbish and I hope he’s not at the club next season unless he banishes the evil twin.

Stephen O’Donnell:  Injury ravaged season so can be absolved from any criticism.

Conor McCormack:  Hard to gauge his season given Kenny played him out of position several times at right back, a position he clearly cannot play in to any satisfactory degree.   His bite in centre mid has been missed, maybe Kenny could’ve given him a go in there, I’d certainly retain him next season and hope he gets another opportunity to build on his 2011 promise.

Gary Twigg:  Started the season on fire and his goals dug Kenny out of some early holes, but as the season has progressed, his frustrations have been increasingly apparent in his body language and ultimately his performances as the goals have dried up and his form has dipped alarmingly.  I hope his 4th year won’t be his last here but he has done more than enough to retain his legendary status at the club, the man is only human after all.

Daryl Kavanagh:  A fans’ favourite and always looked the perfect foil for Twigg in my opinion and when he was given starts by Kenny, played very well only to be bafflingly and laughably substituted by the increasingly confused Kenny.  Has faded right out of contention in recent weeks with Kilduff’s return to fitness and Stewart’s return to the club.  Would be disappointed if he left after one season, but wouldn’t blame him if he did, he’s an excellent player in my view.

Ciaran Kilduff:  Missed out until July through a metatarsal injury but has scored a few goals since returning and has done fairly well amid the carnage around him.  I’m still not sure he’s got the game to be a top scorer if/when Twigg finally leaves us, but he’ll always give 100% and will get his share of goals.  An injury-free full season would give us a better picture.

Tommy Stewart:  Pleased that he came back to the club after a decent enough season in 2010 and his two goals sealed our place in the FAI Cup Quarter Final.  He can and should do better for us for the remainder of the season and Kenny clearly rates him.

Aaron Greene:  Hard to give a definitive opinion on young Greene given most of his appearances were as a sub, but he got a few early goals when he got the chance.  Looks to me to be very much a confidence player and suffered badly when the fans were bellowing out their frustrations at Kenny and injury hasn’t helped Greene’s cause either.  Jury out on Greene for me, he’s young enough to come back stronger I reckon.

So that’s my school report for our playing squad with 6 league games to go, a League Cup Final and a looming FAI Cup Quarter Final.  It’s my opinion that Drogheda deserve to beat us in the League Cup Final as they currently occupy 2nd spot in the League and have made more than the most of the quality they possess and have shown tremendous durability in chasing Sligo.

The FAI Cup hasn’t been seen in Rovers trophy cabinet since 1987 and I see nothing at this stage to suggest that famine will be ended, the term “cup specialists” continues to baffle me when it’s trotted out year after year.  I said in my previous blog that Kenny should’ve been sacked after the Bohs drubbing and despite a decent August, the last 3 games have seen Rovers revert to type under Kenny and the players becoming increasingly bitchy, petulant and exasperated with each other and I’d imagine, with Kenny. 

The Board face a crucial end of season and close season in what direction the club takes.  I still don’t believe Stephen Kenny has what it takes to manage Rovers and the vast majority of the players he signed have bombed.  Most of those should follow Kenny out the door and a new era ushered in urgently.

It seems inconceivable and incredible that the meteoric rise back to the summit of Irish football under Michael O’Neill has fallen asunder so spectacularly.  From Europa League qualifiers and consecutive League of Ireland titles to currently 4th place in the league race.  The players deserve alot of the flak being thrown about (the one or two obvious exceptions absolved from it), but the buck as always when things go pear-shaped, stops with the Manager.   The Board appointed him, over to the Board now.  We live in times of hard decisions, the Board has to make one such similar one.

Keep on Hooping folks, we’ll keep the Green flag flying high.

Phelim Warren, 11/9/12.

Five minutes after I posted this, the news came through that Stephen Kenny was sacked………….the Board have acted.  This season can be buried to the past and maybe we can salvage the FAI Cup yet.  I won’t gloat that Kenny is gone, but I’m not gutted either.  That’s football.

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