Date: 8 p.m. Oct. 22, 2010
Venue: Tallaght Stadium
But it took Rovers until the second half to find the rhythm and tempo required to unlock a Drogheda defence that had little in the way of serious threat to cope with. The opening 45 minutes were, unsurprisingly, a little tense.
Apart from the pace of Billy Dennehy, who started on the right wing, and some honest toil from Thomas Stewart on the opposite side, Rovers played a brand of football that owed as much to nerves as it did to the more fluid aspects of the beautiful game.
Drogheda were, if anything, under even more pressure than their hosts but, with a side that has singularly failed to illuminate the league this year, they gave as good as they got throughout the opening period.
While Rovers main source of danger was the pacy and accurate corner taking of Dessie Baker, Drogheda consistently found space on the flanks. And in Peter McMahon, on the left, and Darren Meenan, on the right, they possessed two players who regularly threatened to open up the home defence.
McMahon in particular made good use of the space afforded him by Stephen Rice, Rovers' emergency right back, flashing in a number of shots that were generally too close to Alan Mannus in the Rovers goal.
In the 47th minute Michael O'Neill brought on Enda Stevens, allowing Danny Murphy to take over from Rice and, in turn, allowing him to relocate to the more familiar surroundings of the Hoop's midfield.
And it was Shamrock Rovers who finished the half more aggressively. With eight minutes until the break Dessie Baker nudged a close range header narrowly wide of the far post having connected with a Dennehy cross and then, six minutes later, Dennehy himself fired a low shot across the mouth of the Drogheda goal having been cleverly set up by Baker.
O'Neill delivered a few choice words to his side at the break and they began the second half with far greater tempo and a good deal less respect for the un-nerving circumstances of the game. And it paid rich dividends.
In the 51st minute following a cleared free kick from the left hand touchline, Danny Murphy hooked a ball towards the right hand side of the Drogheda defensive line. There, Craig Sives was the first to react, getting behind his man and prodding a header wide of Robert Duggan and into the path of the onrushing Thomas Stewart. The ball may have been no more than three feet from the line and just inches above the turf but Stewart threw himself at it as if his life depended on it and Tallaght exploded with delight as the net filled.
From here on Rovers were in control. They harried and chased as Drogheda struggled to get themselves back into the game and with each passing moment their ability to pass and move with positive intent improved.
Just after the hour, Rovers added a second goal, one which doomed their opponents to relegation and ensured that they themselves would still in the title hunt come next Friday. It was a ball, played low to the feet of Gary Twigg, that opened up the Drogheda back-line. Twigg took the pass in his stride and, having turned inside one defender, he unleashed a shot from eight yards that tucked itself inside the right hand post.
It was substitution time, five changes being made in a fifteen minute period. Among the departed was Dessie Baker, who has likely played his last game at Tallaght. Drogheda brought Sinnott, McNamara and Brennan on to try and wrestle something back but with eleven minutes remaining all hope was lost.
Following an incident with Enda Stevens, Corie Treacy received a straight red card and, with the cause long since lost, Ryan Brennan followed two minutes into added time.
So, with just one game remaining, Shamrock Rovers find themselves back on the top of the pile and, perhaps unexpectedly, back in the position of title favourites. How quickly things change.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus, Stephen Rice, Craig Sives, Aidan Price, Danny Murphy; Thomas Stewart, Stephen Bradley (Enda Stevens, 37), Chris Turner (Robert Bayly, 80), Billy Dennehy; Dessie Baker (Neale Fenn, 70), Gary Twigg.
Subs not used: Pat Jennings, Aidan Downes.
Bookings: Stewart (10), Turner (14).
Drogheda United: Robert Duggan; Yael Haro, Jamie Harris (Conor Sinnott, 67), Alan McNally, Corie Treacy; Darren Meenan, Paul Crowley (Ryan Brennan, 82), Michael Daly, Brendan McGill (Darragh McNamara, 72), Peter McMahon; John Flood.
Subs not used: Paul Skinner, Eoghan Osborne.
Bookings: McMahon (49).
Sendings Off: Treacy (79), Brennan (90 +2).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Billy Dennehy.