Lee O’Mara’s second-half winner inflicted a second consecutive league defeat on Pike Rovers, extending Janesboro’s advantage at the top of the LDL Premier Division to three points.
News that the injury sustained by Colin Daly during Thursday’s Tuohy Cup victory over Kilmallock would rule him out of this top-of-the-table showdown was hardly music to the ears of Pike’s managerial triumvirate, particularly in light of the suspension currently being served by Daly’s midfield colleague Steven McGann.
With centre-backs Pa Mullins and Sean O’Callaghan also unavailable, Colm Enright and co. were forced to partner Wayne Colbert with the returning Pa McGarry, with Jason Mullins also handed a first league start of the season at right-back. Eoin Hanrahan and Arron Nunan, formerly of Janesboro of course, also made their league bows, with Wayne O’Donovan surprisingly fielded in an unfamiliar holding midfield role.
Meanwhile, Janesboro managers Aidan Ryan and Shane O’Hanlon, whose squad is already tight, were forced to do without winger Mike Ryan. Lee O’Mara returned at right-back after a recent medical absence, allowing Danny O’Neill to push up and assume Ryan’s duties. Kevin Barry, who partnered Shane Clarke throughout last weekend’s win at home to Fairview, was sacrificed to facilitate a switch to 4-4-1-1.
Both starting selections therefore betrayed a fear of defeat, and the ensuing first-half caginess played out to little surprise. Pike held the territorial advantage, but with both shapes cancelling each other out, chances were at a large premium.
The hosts’ biggest opportunity of the half resulted from a Steven Bradley error, when the otherwise commanding stand-in centre-back underhit an ill-judged backpass, permitting Cian Collins the chance to sidefoot a finish inches wide of the far post.
With both John Tierney and Thomas Lyons looking leggy in the Janesboro midfield, the visitors were perennially on the back foot, but they did fashion one glorious chance just before the break. Wayne Colbert failed to prevent Tierney reaching a channel ball first, allowing the number ten to play Clarke through.
Colbert rushed across to deny the league’s joint top-scorer, but the loose ball ran through to Adrian Power, whose strong left-footed effort was foiled at point-blank range by the quick-thinking Gary Neville.
Pike’s likeliest creative outlet was Paddy O’Malley, particularly when the central midfielder varied his position by running out wide. An injury-time cross from the Clare man, that Hanrahan headed over at the back post, may have been converted had the recently-capped injury-returnee accrued more games under his belt.
The opener, when it finally arrived ten minutes into the second stanza, unsurprisingly stemmed from a dead ball, when Neville marred a wonderful week in which he too was capped by failing to claim an inswinging Tierney corner, allowing O’Mara to dramatically cap his return to football by slamming the ball home at the far post.
It took Janesboro all of eight minutes to press the self-destruct button, when Lyons earned a second-yellow card for halting Nunan’s infield run just outside the Janesboro area. Having been booked early in the first-half for a late, late challenge on O’Malley, Lyons could have no complaints.
Janesboro reorganised into a 4-4-1 without resorting to substitutions, with Tierney surprisingly retained beside Curtin in the centre of midfield. Pike, meanwhile, moved to a 4-4-2, with Hanrahan joining Collins up front, and O’Donovan shifting to a more familiar right-wing role.
Soon after his move out wide, O’Donovan produced a wonderful back-post cross that O’Malley somehow contrived to head wide at the back post. Moments later, Hanrahan nipped ahead of Clarke to glance wide an O’Malley corner. Those were two rare decent deliveries, as Pike spent the remaining 25 minutes hitting the first man when presented with opportunities to cross.
The late introduction of young Cian Power up top in a 3-3-4 made little difference, as Janesboro’s back-four remained comfortable. His earlier error aside, a sensational block, followed by a last-man tackle on O’Malley in the Janesboro area, summed up Bradley’s morning.
Pike have now drawn a blank in front of goal in two consecutive league games, both of which ended in defeat. They fall to fourth, five points behind Janesboro, who lead Nenagh – conquerors of hapless champions Carew Park – by three points at the top.
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