Sligo Rovers 1-1 Shamrock Rovers

The Bit O’ Red got our 2023 Men’s Premier Division season got underway at a sold-out Showgrounds this evening as we welcomed Shamrock Rovers in the opening game of the season.

Manager John Russell handed full debuts to Johan Brannefalk, Reece Hutchinson and Lukas Browning alongside academy graduates Eanna Clancy and Kailin Barlow who broke into the squad in 2022 and were rewarded for a strong pre-season showing with a place in the starting eleven tonight.

The game started off with a fast pace from the get-go. Neil Farrugia had the first chance of the night but his shot was straight at Luke McNicholas in Rovers’ goal.

Max Mata went through one on one with Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus moments later but he was denied from a tight angle by the experienced goalkeeper. Following on from that Rovers pushed again and almost took the lead through Pijnaker and again Mata before Will Fitzgerald was denied with a long range strike.

The visitors took the lead through Graham Burke on 17 minutes after the Dubliner’s shot from the left hand side of the area flew past McNicholas to send the away end into full voice.

The rest of the half was a tight affair with the home side pushing for an equaliser and Shamrock Rovers threatening on the counter attack.

The second half started much like the first half ended with both sides looking to get forward at every opportunity.

Fabrice Hartmann replaced Frank Liivak on the hour mark and Johnny Kenny came on for Shamrock Rovers soon after for the first time since departing The Showgrounds 14 months ago.

On 67 minutes was the game’s big talking point. Kailin Barlow won a throw down the Rovers’ left but Roberto Lopes took exception to the young Sligo native and pushed him in the face, giving referee Damien MacGraith no option but to send him off. Barlow picked up a caution for his reaction.

The Bit O’ Red through everything at the visitors from then on in.

Will Fitzgerald continued to carry the ball forward and Reece Hutchinson got down the left hand side time after time to try and bring Rovers level.

Barlow rattled the post and Fitzgerald forced a great save from goalkeeper Mannus soon after and it looked as if the home side’s efforts would go without reward.

A cross from substitute Daniel Lafferty was turned behind for a corner in the final minute of stoppage time by Neil Farrugia.

Will Fitzgerald’s cross was only half cleared by Darragh Nugent and Lukas Browning took a touch and volleyed the ball into the bottom left corner to bring the Showgrounds to its feet.

The full time whistle blew soon after and a share of the spoils was confirmed in a highly entertaining night.

Nando Pijnaker was named Man of the Match in memory of our late friend, Sean Dwyer.

Next up for Rovers is a trip to UCD on Friday night.

(Photo: Sportsfile)