There were mixed emotions for Sligo Rovers fans at the weekend as the Bit o’Red opened up a four point lead at the top of the Airtricity League Premier Division on Saturday evening courtesy of a dominant 4-1 win over Drogheda United at the Showgrounds.
Goals from Mark Quigley, Seamus Conneely, Romuald Boco and Joseph Ndo gave Ian Baraclough’s side their eleventh league win of the season. In contrast, Sligo’s interest in this year’s EA Sports Cup was ended and the semi-final stage courtesy of a 2-1 defeat to the same opposition on Monday afternoon at Hunky Dorys Park. First half strikes from Gavin Brennan and Tiarnan Mulvenna were enough to see Mick Cooke’s side through to their first cup final in seven years. Former Drogheda midfielder Lee Lynch replied for Rovers, but it was not enough as the home side held out for a place in September’s final where they will face Shamrock Rovers.
Saturday’s league tie saw the FAI Cup holders prepare for the game without captain Danny Ventre, who missed out through suspension while top scorer Danny North began his stint in the stands due to a cruciate ligament injury which will see him miss the remainder of the season.
Sligo dominated for large periods and opened the scoring with ten minutes played when Mark Quigley’s placed shot evaded the reach of Drogheda ‘keeper Gabriel Sava. United seldom caused the home side any problems in the opening period and Rovers doubled their lead three minutes before half-time when Sava spilled Romuald Boco’s low shot at the feet of the waiting Conneely who blasted into an open net.
The Louthmen had their first shot on goal in the second half on 58 minutes when Gary Rogers had to be alert to hold Declan O’Brien’s 20 yard volley. The Bit o’Red were again rewarded for their quick movement and dynamic passing on the hour as Mark Quigley and Joseph Ndo exchanged passes at the edge of the area. Ndo rounded two defenders and goalkeeper Sava and from the edge of the six yard box, the Cameroon international’s superb chipped cross found Boco who headed home unmarked at the back post.
Despite having a mountain to climb, Drogheda rallied and gave themselves some hope on 76 minutes as Gavin Brennan’s cross found the head of substitute Peter Hynes and the former Longford striker headed past Rogers to cut Sligo’s lead to two. Any belief this may have given the Boynesiders was short lived however, as Raf Cretaro found Ndo who slipped the ball under Sava to reinstate Rovers’ three goal lead with eleven minutes remaining. The win now sees Rovers hold a four point lead with one game in hand over second placed Drogheda and third placed Shamrock Rovers who the Bit o’Red go up against this coming Monday night at Tallaght Stadium.
Speaking after the game, Baraclough praised his side’s spirit, determination and discipline:”It was a pleasing performance especially after we had drawn the last couple of games. Everybody was talking about Drogheda’s good form and how Shamrock Rovers were back on song, but there was an intensity in training this week that suggested to me that we were not going to lose this game. I was pleased with the goals and some of our play was exceptional. I thought our discipline was fantastic as it is so easy to lash out after some of the intimidation our lads were getting. They (Drogheda) got a goal back late on but we re-grouped and went and got another goal which was needed as they were never going to give up.”
Monday’s EA Sports Cup defeat to the same opponent just 40 hours later saw Baraclough make seven changes to his starting XI. Brennan put Drogheda ahead on 26 minutes when Boco’s lapse of concentration at the back post gave the former Monaghan winger time and space to open the scoring before a schoolboy error from Jeff Henderson led to United’s second. The Newcastle native allowed a long punt from Sava to bounce in front of him and over his head, and the waiting Tiernan Mulvenna pounced to double his side’s lead.
Sligo enjoyed the majority of second half possession, and cut their deficit in half on 60 minutes when winger Ryan Connolly spotted Lynch’s late run toward the opposition’s goal. Lynch picked his spot and drove the ball low into the corner and to Sava’s right to propel Rovers back into the game. The introduction of Millien for Connolly caused Drogheda’s defence plenty of problems and although Rovers went close through Boco in the closing stages of the game, this was the nearest they were to get to an equaliser.
Sligo Rovers (V Drogheda, Saturday): Rogers; Keane, Peers, McGuinness, Davoren; Boco, Cawley, Ndo, Conneely, Gaynor; Quigley; Millien.
Subs used: Connolly (for Conneely, 57’), Cretaro (for Millien, 64’), Lynch (for Cawley, 84’).
Sligo Rovers: (V Drogheda, Monday): Brush, Keane, Henderson, Conneely, Davoren, Boco, Ventre, Lynch, Connolly, Quigley, Cretaro.
Subs used: Millien (for Connolly 71’), Ndo (for Henderson 91’), Dillon (for Ventre 91’).