Pike Rovers maintained their one-point lead at the top of the LDL Premier Division with a facile victory over Regional United.
Already bereft of first-teamers Kieran O’Connell, Mikey Lyons and Michael Reidy, Regional’s cause was not helped by the late withdrawal of player-manager Brian O’Callaghan, thanks to an injury sustained during the pre-match warm-up.
Full-back Ian Hughes was tasked with filling his gaffer’s right-sided centre-back shoes, with minor graduate Sam Gleeson drafted in as Hughes’ emergency replacement.
It took Pike – who were also shorn of the right half of their back four by Pa Mullins’ and Wayne O’Donovan’s hamstring issues – all of five minutes to prevail upon their hosts’ patched up rearguard. Cian Collins turned Hughes and teed up Paddy O’Malley to beat Gleeson to the byline and send in a back-post cross to the waiting John Boyle.
Goalkeeper Timmy Dalton could only palm the former Janesboro midfielder’s powerful strike out to the centre of the six-yard box, where Colin Daly lurked to nab his third goal of the season.
Despite the tireless efforts of Stephen Keeley to compensate, Regional’s midfield was over-run from the off by their visiting counterparts. Daly received the ball in oceans of space between the Regional lines on countless occasions, and it was no surprise when this freedom produced Pike’s second goal in the 16th minute.
More excellent hold-up play from Collins allowed the striker to complete a one-two with his number ten, whose resultant low long-range effort skated past Dalton at his bottom right-hand corner. That’s a second consecutive double for Daly, who also struck twice in Thursday’s 5-0 humbling of Geraldines at Crossagalla.
A deft Steven McGann back-heel ignited the attack that led to Pike’s second, and the returning midfielder was involved again when Pike hit the woodwork soon after. Spotting Dalton off his line, McGann unleashed a dipping left-footed effort that clipped the top of Regional’s crossbar and bounced over.
Although Thursday’s impressive counter-attacking victory over a wide-open Fairview Rangers was earned in the same configuration, Regional’s 4-4-2 seemed ill-advised against a highly structured Pike midfield.
The hosts’ failure to track Daly’s midfield movement was compounded by the freedom afforded to Pa McGarry, who positioned himself unusually deep relative to his partner McGann. As such, Pike were able to work the ball forward easily, and when the hosts eventually asked striker Ollie O’Driscoll to drop onto him, the damage was already done.
Pike didn’t exactly bust a gut to extend their advantage in the second-half, and the comfortable defence of their lead was made even easier on the hour upon Keeley’s injury-enforced departure.
Robbed of the former Geraldines midfielder’s energy, second ball recoveries and robust challenges, the Dooradoyle side’s midfield kindly offered up the necessary space for a now-complacent Pike to increase their tally. Daly skipped past Michael Guerin in the Pike half and continued his run, before feeding Collins.
Benefiting from loose marking, Collins worked the ball inside and used it to connect with McGann’s criminally untracked run from midfield. The imposing midfielder capped a typically influential performance by coolly slotting the ball past Dalton at his near post from close-range.
Perhaps sensing the complacency around him, captain Wayne Colbert could be heard urging his troops to make sure of a clean sheet, but he needn’t have worried. Aside from a late half-chance, when O’Driscoll robbed the ball in the Pike area and struck it wide, their undermanned hosts never looked like laying a glove upon them.
Daly 5′, 16′; McGann 70′
Man of the Match