By Aidan Fitzmaurice
Shelbourne FC were once again at their parsimonious best as a fourth clean sheet in five UEFA Champions League games saw them hold second qualifying round opponents FC Steaua Bucuresti to a goalless draw at Tolka Park.
The visitors made much of the running, but were constantly rebuffed by goalkeeper Dean Delaney as 13 years after their last visit to Dublin, Steaua once again failed to score. Oleg Protasov, who was overseeing his first game at the Steaua helm, will nevertheless be confident of completing the job in the Romanian capital next Wednesday.
There were enough Steaua supporters packed inside Tolka Park to make this seem like a home leg and it was the visitors that created the first chance on seven minutes. Sorin Ghionea's long punt forward deceived the Shelbourne back-line and found Daniel Nicolita in front of goal with only the goalkeeper to beat, but former Irish Under-21 international Delaney made a superb save.
The chance woke the home side up and they soon snapped out of their early nerves and began taking the game to the 1986 European Champion Clubs' Cup winners. Chances were few and far between though and goalkeeper Vasili Khomutovski was not tested until just before the half-hour mark, saving at the feet of Glen Crowe, after Richie Baker had created an opening.
Baker was again the provider ten minutes before the interval, but Jason Byrne could not connect. Central midfielder Stuart Byrne was forced off with an injury before the interval as Shelbourne lost some of their rhythm. Steaua almost took a half-time lead when Constantin Iacob outpaced Colin Hawkins and raced into the box, but left-back David Crawley cut out the danger with a superb tackle.
Playing their first competitive game of the season, Steaua began to find their touch as the second half progressed but were unable to beat Delaney. Iacob missed no less than four chances, a combination of the goalkeeper, Hawkins and poor finishing denying Steaua the lead.
The excellent Hawkins was later booked meaning he will be suspended for the second leg next Wednesday when Shelbourne manager Pat Fenlon will hope his side can maintain another record - the Irish side have scored eight goals in their last seven away games in UEFA competition.