Janesboro avenged their early season spanking at the hands of Pike Rovers, to deny the beaten FAI Junior Cup finalists the chance to go joint-top of the LDL Premier Division.
The opening minutes of this game were misleading, with an injury-hit Pike flying out of the blocks quickly and showing no ill-effects from their Aviva sojourn. Darren Glasheen was forced into a fine save in the first minute, when Wayne Colbert’s curling cross from deep was caught sweetly by Garry Higgins on the volley.
Yet it was Janesboro, with only five minutes on the clock, who opened the scoring. Shane Clarke held the ball up near the byline, before laying it off to the onrushing Steven Bradley. The ‘Boro midfielder neatly skipped a Pike challenge before crossing for Eddie Brazier to tap into an empty net.
That goal was a microcosm of all that was good about the hosts’ attacking play, with Shane Clarke’s physicality and hold-up play creating space for strike partner Conor Lynch and supporting midfielders. Pike’s centre backs – particularly the still hamstrung Pa Mullins – found Clarke’s threat difficult to handle. Mullins was booked for accumulation very early in the first half and was lucky not to see a second yellow for a tackle from behind on Clarke just before the break.
The ‘Boro striker’s ability to retain the ball with back to goal set up two more big chances for his side before the 15 minute mark arrived. First, he laid off to Lynch, who combined with Brazier and Clarke again, before shooting just wide from the edge of the area. And then, just minutes later, Clarke held off the enveloping arms of Mullins to link up with one of many well-timed forward runs from Bradley. Conor Lynch deposited his midfielder’s resulting lofted through ball, but was ruled offside.
Pike also struggled in the attacking phase, in the injury-enforced absence of key midfielders Steven McGann and Shane Walsh. Although the always tenacious duo of Wayne Colbert and Jason Mullins worked hard, neither looked likely to unlock the ‘Boro defence.
Pike did however manage to fashion two clear-cut chances in the first half; the second of which was a carbon copy of the first. On both occasions, Cian Collins drifted left to collect a long pass, while left winger Garry Higgins drifted in the opposite direction. Collins, who was by far Pike’s most dangerous attacking threat, killed the ball with his first touch, before playing a raking cross-field ball to Higgins. Janesboro’s left back Craig McMarlow was caught both times, but saw Higgins’ first strike go wide and cleared the second one off the line himself! Shades of the Carew Park defeat for Pike, who would go on to make this the third consecutive game where they failed to trouble the scorers.
Unfortunately for those in attendance, that pulsating first half preceded a damp squib of a second. Perhaps finally feeling the effects of last weekend, Pike never really looked likely to level the scores, let alone secure a comeback victory. Paddy O’Malley, Mick Sheil’s only available replacement, was introduced in place of Higgins on the hour mark, exhausting Pike’s limited options to freshen things up.
Indeed it was Janesboro who could – and perhaps should – have extended their lead. Midway through the half, Clarke easily outmuscled Sean O’Callaghan on the right edge of the area before gifting the ball into Gary Neville’s hands. The unmarked substitute Shane Waters stood unimpressed at the back post.
Minutes later, Waters was first to a long ball in behind the Pike defence, with Wayne O’Donovan caught upfield. Alas for the hosts, the winger hesitated, allowing Mullins to recover and execute a strong block tackle to save the day. Waters was first to the loose ball in the area however, and appeared to fall on top of it under contact from behind from the Pike centre back. Referee Martin Monahan awarded a free-out.
Pike now need to win their remaining two games against Fairview and Moyross and hope that Carew drop three in theirs to secure a playoff. Meanwhile, Janesboro will have an even greater incentive to defeat their Tuohy conquerors in their upcoming league meeting, to keep their newly-rekindled outside chance of retaining the title alive.
Man of the Match
Don’t forget to check out the latest Limerick Soccer Podcast on Soundcloud, featuring Pike Rovers coach Keith Higgins. It’s a very interesting chat, focusing on his role at the club, his past with Summerville Rovers and Limerick FC, and the FAI final last Saturday afternoon.