Stephen Bradley: 'We played like we'd never played a game or together before'

Hoops boss Stephen Bradley

Hoops boss Stephen Bradley Credit: Conor Ryan (ETPhotos)

Ronan MacNamara reports from Tolka Park

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley slammed his side’s first half defensive display as the Hoops suffered their first defeat of the season to Shelbourne at Tolka Park.

A calamitous performance at the back from Rovers saw Shelbourne miss an early penalty before racing into a two-goal lead at the interval.

Bradley's charges were pinned back towards their 18-yard box by a buoyant Shels side. 

And his defenders Dan Cleary, Sean Hoare and Lee Grace - who conceded the penalty for a foul on Paddy Barrett - struggled to cope with the pace and movement of Will Jarvis, Matty Smith, Tyreke Wilson and John O’Sullivan.

“Awful. Back three, it's probably the worst defensive display I've ever seen from us,” the four-in-a-row winning manager conceded.

“You're talking about Dan Cleary, Sean Hoare and Lee Grace. I would say they have 12-15 leagues there between them.

"And we played like we'd never played a game or together before.”

The Shels second goal from Jarvis particularly irked Bradley after the winger plucked Conor Kearns’ long goal kick from the sky which caught out Josh Honohan and Cleary.

“It was quite obvious what they do," the Rovers chief added. "It was actually embarrassing to get done by that. We were really poor.

"Our back three are top players but they were a million miles away. They were dropping to play and going long. The game becomes too big. Crazy stuff.

“Not respecting the game, not understanding what Shels are going to do and bring to the game. They were always going to bring the energy early on and get the crowd involved.

"Our back three played into their hands. If it was Josh [Honohan] in there with two young boys you'd say 'you know what, it's learning', but you're talking about three top centre halves.”

Bradley introduced Graham Burke from the bench for the injured Hoare before the interval and the Hoops created a flurry of chances towards the end of the half before Rory Gaffney halved the deficit four minutes after the restart.

The Tallaght side pushed for an equaliser in the dying embers of the game but were denied by two smart stops from Kearns late on. 

Bradley was pleased with his side’s attacking play and believes they might have completed the comeback on another night.

“In another game we score five, we had that many good chances,” admitted Bradley.

“Some of our attacking play was top level. If you defend like that against any team in this league you will get punished. Embarrassing stuff defensively, really poor.

“The attacking play was as good as we've been in a long, long time.

"Against Dundalk we had some brilliant chances to win the game. This was very, very simple.

"We didn't show up defensively, but attacking wise I don't think you'll see much better performances that that, obviously we want to put one in the back of the net. 

"But some of the patterns and some of the movement was top level. In the end we're in a good place, but we can't defend like that.”

It’s been an injury hit opening two games for Shamrock Rovers who lost wing backs Neil Farrugia and Trevor Clarke in last week’s draw with Dundalk while Hoare limped off in the first half on Friday.

Already jostling his side, Bradley will be pleased with Jack Byrne’s impending return to training on Monday ahead of the first Friday, Monday, Friday run of the season.

"That's the course of the season," he concluded. "That's football and that's why the best team wins the league, because you are getting thrown different problems and scenarios every week.

"There is no point crying about it or giving out about it, it's life, you get injuries, it happens.

"We have a big squad, we have a good squad, we'll deal with it and we'll be fine."