Rovers fluff opening lines
But Hoops boss O'Neill is not panicking and says the title is still a target despite disastrous start
IT'S THEIR worst start to a season in living memory, so no wonder Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O'Neill says he's concerned about the Hoops' form.
Narrowly beaten to the league title by Bohemians last season, Rovers this morning found themselves second from bottom of the league table with just one point, and one goal scored, in three league games, their latest calamity a 2-0 defeat at home by Dundalk yesterday.
Even in their worst-ever season (2005) when the side were relegated, Rovers had started off better with two points on the board after three games.
Rovers were poor during their midweek home defeat, also by a 2-0 scoreline by league leaders St Pat's, but they were even worse against a well-organised and bright Dundalk side yesterday, the deserved win for the Louth side coming thanks to a goal in either half from Neale Fenn (35 minutes) and former Hoop Stephen Maher (47 minutes).
Both men are unlikely sources of a goal as it was only Fenn's third league strike in 38 games, while it was the first goal in the League of Ireland career of Maher, who had a brief spell with Rovers in 2007.
And it could have been even worse for the southsiders as keeper Alan Mannus was very, very lucky to stay on the field after he hauled down Dundalk striker Ross Gaynor at the edge of the box on 64 minutes, and at that stage Rovers had already used all three subs so a dismissal for the Northern Ireland international would have forced Rovers to play out the last 26 minutes with 10 men and an outfield player in goal -- but somehow Mannus escaped without even a booking.
Small mercies, however, as Rovers deserved nothing on a day when the competing attraction of live English Premier League action saw the attendances halved from the bumper crowd of 6,000 which paid to see Tuesday's Dublin derby.
But O'Neill admits that the current form is a concern, even allowing for the fact that Rovers have missed key players like Gary Twigg, Dessie Baker, Aidan Price and Danny Murphy this season.
"We're going through a bit of a bad patch at the minute," said O'Neill. "Maybe the injuries and suspensions haven't helped but we have to dig in, the players have to dig deep and I will try to turn that around.
"The players know they haven't done well, they're not stupid, they know individually how they have done.
"They know they have do better collectively as a team, and that team included myself and Trevor [Croly] and everyone attached to the club.
"We prepared the team in the same way since we came to the club so we're not doing anything different," added O'Neill, who dismissed a suggestion that the eight-point gap between Rovers and current joint-leaders St Pat's and Bohemians could harm their title chances.
"I'm not even thinking about the title now, I am thinking of Galway on Friday," he said.
"We never came out and said we were going to win the league or anything like that.
"A lot of people believe that we have a squad capable of maintaining a challenge for the league and I believe that as well. But at this minute in time, we don't look like a team that's capable of doing that. That doesn't mean that we won't do that, but at the moment our only thought is, how can we get a win? We're not looking past anything but Galway on Friday. We go to Galway now on Friday and we have to try and win the game."
O'Neill kept his players in the dressing room for more than 40 minutes but it could have been even longer as few of those in the green and white shirts emerged with credit from the day's work, possibly the only saving grace some energetic work by sub Don Cowan, who had two decent efforts in the last 10 minutes. But by then the game was over.
Fenn scored just five league goals in three seasons with Bohemians but he's been in form with Dundalk since his move there and was quick off the mark in Tallaght yesterday, putting Dundalk ahead with a clever finish on 35 minutes, Gaynor providing the killer pass after some slack defensive play by Aidan Price.
O'Neill made a change at half time to try and freshen up his side, Stephen Rice the man withdrawn, but it was Dundalk who started the second period stronger and two minutes after the break they'd doubled their lead. Shaun Kelly swung in a high cross from the right, the impressive Fenn gave the perfect lay-off for Maher, and the Dubliner slammed his shot past Mannus.
By the hour-mark Rovers had made all three changes but even the arrival off the bench of Stephen Bradley, Sean O'Connor and Don Cowan offered no relief and Dundalk deserved the win.
"I am disappointed with the performance and the result, we have had two poor performances at home now. It's a poor start and the team is struggling a little bit," added O'Neill.
"The most disappointing thing is the lack of chances we are creating and the nature of the goals we are conceding, poor goals or goals from set pieces.
"When we go behind in games we don't look as if we are capable of winning, to be honest, we tried but were never in a position to create anything.
"Collectively, confidence is a little low at the minute, it's my job to pick the players up and that's what I'll be doing this week."