No silver lining for Linfield
Shamrock Rovers 4 Linfield 1
Linfield's hopes of claiming Setanta Sports Cup glory to put a gloss on a disappointing season were wrecked in Dublin on Monday night.
WIth the league title slipping from their grasp and interest in the Irish Cup already over, the Blues were looking to the all-Ireland competition in order to salvage something from this campaign.
After conceding four goals to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght that dream is dead – even with a return leg to come at Windsor Park next Monday.
Two goals down at half-time Linfield did improve in the second half and Billy Joe Burns scored the goal of the night to bring them right back into the tie.
Indeed for a spell David Jeffrey's men were the better side and looked more threatening, but two more goals from Rovers means the tie is over as a contest.
The intensity of the first meeting of these major powers in the competition served as a reminder of why people thought the tournament would be a good idea in the first place, even if the dominance of the League of Ireland sides looks like removing a cross border element from the semi finals.
Linfield may not be feeling so great about the competition this morning after they were comfortably outpointed by Shamrock Rovers with Trevor Croly's men building up an advantage that puts them well in control.
Linfield came into this game with the apparent advantage of being in-season. The problem is that it hasn't been a very good season as was demonstrated by the disorganised defending throughout.
Rovers seized the initiative from the outset, winning a series of corner kicks that came to nothing.
While a scrappy period followed, it was the Hoops that looked more dangerous.
Fittingly, the breakthrough which came 11 minutes before the break was aided by some Linfield inefficiency.
After William Murphy was punished for a foul on opposite number Jason McGuinness, O'Connor stepped up to launch a shot on goal that was fumbled by Ross Glendinning into the path of Ronan Finn who calmly converted.
Rovers' derived strength from their lead and sought to press home their dominance. A fine long range strike from Karl Sheppard might have provided a second with a comical scramble ensuing when Glendinning pushed it onto the crossbar – Robinson twice attempted to force home the rebound and was denied by both the goalkeeper and a goal-line clearance from Jim Ervin.
Linfield relief was short lived. As the clock ticked into first half additional time, the blue shirts went to sleep as Finn was given ample time to collect an errant cross and pick out Ciaran Kilduff who gleefully nodded home from close range.
After some stern words from Jeffrey, the Blues came out with renewed focus and following a pair of near misses, they got their reward when Burns produced the goal of the evening with a stunning volley from distance.
The Rovers' response was impressive with the endeavour of marauding full back Pat Sullivan teeing up Kilduff for his second of the night with 18 minutes remaining. Then, substitute Stephen Rice capitalised on the groundwork of man-of-the-match Finn to slot the fourth.
Linfield's misery was compounded when Brian McCaul's last minute penalty was stopped by Barry Murphy and Ryan Henderson somehow managed to fire the loose ball into the side netting when presented with an open goal.
With away goals counting, the last chance to salvage hope from their journey was extinguished.
Shamrock Rovers: Murphy, Sullivan, Foran, McGuinness, Powell; Chambers, Robinson (Rice 74), Finn; Sheppard (McCabe 70), Kilduff, O'Connor (Stewart 85).
Linfield: Glendinning, Ervin, Murphy, Armstrong, Burns; Lowry, Garrett (Henderson 70), Mulgrew; McCaul, Thompson (Browne 76), Carvill.
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin).