It almost wasn’t to be but three was the magic number for Shamrock Rovers Head Coach Stephen Bradley on Friday night in Tallaght.
His team’s third goal of the game against Finn Harps, scored in the 90th minute by Simon Madden, just about secured Rovers’ third win of the league campaign.
Bradley had deployed his team in a three-at-the-back formation for the first time this season and they raced into a 2-0 lead in the first quarter of an hour.
However the Hoops were lethargic in the second half, allowing the visitors to score twice in the last quarter of the game, and it was Harps who looked most likely to get the winner until Madden popped up at the death for Rovers.
Speaking after the game, Bradley was disappointed that his team couldn’t perform throughout the 90 minutes.
“In the first half we were excellent,” the Hoops boss told reporters.
“We moved the ball really well, played with a really good tempo and scored two great goals.
“It could have been three, four or five as we had chances to put them to bed but we never did. In the second half we were terrible.”
First goals of the season
Both Rovers goals came from distance with Dave McAllister scoring inside two minutes and then Ronan Finn scoring shortly after – both their first of the season.
With Rovers playing three-at-the-back, it freed 28-year-old McAllister to play a more advanced role than he had recently.
“Davey has played as a number six in the last few weeks and I’ve restricted him. He isn’t that type of player as he is about getting in the box and scoring goals.
“He has always been that type of player. It is great to have him in those high positions where he can go and affect the game. His strike was unbelievable.
“Ronan has been having niggles in his groin since the start of the season from last year and he hasn’t been able to strike the ball.
“In the last few weeks he has been reluctant to hit it. He had some treatment during the week and he has felt so much freer.
“That is the first time he has felt he could strike a ball 100%. You saw how clean it was.”
Bradley was asked by extratime.ie why he went with the three-man-defence for the first time this season.
“They are a new group [of players] so I couldn’t just go and use it straight away. It takes time for them to understand the movements, the patterns and the distance.
“In the first half we nailed it but in the second half we looked like a team who just learned to use it yesterday. That is not acceptable.
Trevor Clarke had provided a potent threat from his wing back position all night. The only way it seemed Ollie Horgan’s men could stop the Ireland under-19 international was by fouling him.
Killian Cantwell, Caolan McAleer and Barry Molloy all picked up yellow cards for taking down Clarke.
“In the second half he [Clarke] was unbelievable. I think he made ten or 12 runs with the ball up and down that line. He carries you 60 yards up the pitch.”
With Clarke on one side and Madden on the other, Bradley noted that those players give him the option of a three man defence.
“It is part of why we play it and why we signed the players we did, as it gives us that freedom to play that system.
“It gives us a threat down both sides. It opens up the centre of the pitch. I will use it a lot more.
“I think the players we have this year are more suited to it. We have more mobility, more legs and more energy.”
Kick in the arse
The Hoops had dominated the opening period but fell back into their shell in the second half with Harps taking control.
“We waited for a kick in the arse to get going,” said Bradley. “We shouldn’t do that. We need to put these teams to bed.”
“In every game, we’ve played really well in patches. This game was probably the longest part we’ve done that. We need to kill teams off and we didn’t.
“We said at half time ‘don’t let them back in the game. Go and win it.’ but we stopped playing.
“To be fair to them, they came into it and were very good second half.”
Harps had started the game two points ahead of Rovers in the table.
As the game went on former Rovers, Derry and Celtic player Paddy McCourt became more influential, with himself and Caolan McAleer having the upper hand in midfield.
McAleer got one back on 71 minutes, with McCourt bending a free kick around the wall to equalise six minutes later.
Last minute winner
“Thankfully Simon got the winner in the end,” said a relived Bradley.
“He could have panicked and flashed at it but he was nice and calm and side footed it into the only area that was free. The finish was excellent.
“We shouldn’t need a last minute winner to go and win that game. It is great to get the win in the end but the lads aren’t satisfied with their performance in the second half.”
Bradley had handed 18-year-old Sam Bone and 17-year-old Dean Dillon their first league starts for the Hoops, and Bone in particular caught the head coach’s eye.
“He was brilliant. When you look at him he is only 18 years of age. He has gone and run that game like an old pro.
“He can play left, he can play right, both feet without even thinking about it.
“He makes us a different team as he can play with real tempo on both sides. He will only get stronger.”