Date: 7:35 p.m. June 24, 2011
Venue: The Showgrounds
Gavin Peers, a rock in the Sligo defence all evening, marauded forward to open the scoring for the hosts in the first half before Eoin Doyle sealed the win in second half stoppage time with a cool finish.
Both sides started with five men in midfield, the hosts gave Matthew Blinkhorn the nod up front and Doyle reverted to the left wing with Aaron Greene still deputising for the injured Iairflaith Davoren at left back. Shamrocks lined out with Gary O'Neill up front with Karl Sheppard injured and Gary Twigg, with nine league goals already to his name only making the bench.
It was the Sligo midfield that settled into the wet conditions the quicker with Joseph Ndo and Alan Kirby particularly dominant. After only five minutes Doyle got felled near the sideline. Ndo whipped a dangerous free kick that both Peers and Jason McGuinness were agonisingly close to meeting but the Hoops survived the early scare. The tone was set however and after Greene burst down the wing with a trademark run he attempted to find Blinkhorn, Ken Oman needed to be at his athletic best to clear off the toe of the big forward.
Finally after 13 minutes the league leaders seemed to get to grips with the occasion. Wingers Billy Dennehy and Gary McCabe started to enforce themselves on proceedings. Dennehy broke clear to catch Sligo on the break, but after riding Peers challenge could only drag his shot harmlessly wide. McCabe then on the left wing went at McGuinness in the box, but after overrunning the ball went down in the area. All penalty claims were waved away despite the protestations of the pint sized attacker.
Sligo reaffirmed their control of proceedings from here but, despite their midfield dominance could not find a clear way through the Hoops defence. Peers almost connected with another Ndo delivery, this time from a corner but Alan Mannus did well to collect under pressure. Indeed it seemed the first goal would come from a set piece, and true to the context of the game, so it did.
Again it was Ndo to take and again it was directed towards Peers. This time, in the 39th minute, the hardnosed defender made no mistake in meeting the ball and powered his header past Mannus who was left stranded by the quality of the former Cameroon internationals delivery.
The Bit O'Red maintained possession well in the minutes coming up to halftime, Ndo and Richie Ryan did well in dictating the pace from the midfield and the sides went in with Peers' goal separating the sides.
Despite a couple of early second half corners from which Oman headed over the Hoops didn't seem to have come out from the interval with any added gusto and Sligo soon took control again. Greene saw a prospective cross come back out off the crossbar when he made way down the left wing but as is often the failing with Paul Cooks side, good possession didn't yield many gilt edged chances.
Michael O'Neill saw fit to introduce Gary Twigg and Ciaran Kilduff in an attempt to instigate a change of fortunes but the Bit O'Red continued to dominate midfield and the Hoops forwards really survived on little ball. When they did attack however it was Dennehy and McCabe to the fore and after McCabe found Kilduff in the area the forward went down under Peers' challenge. The visiting supporters were up in arms but again the impressive Buttimer stood firm and waved play on.
The Sligo defence in totality was in imperious form and from that platform the midfield made sure of superiority with clever movement and passing. Alan Keane made headway down the right wing but Blinkhorn's connection with his cross was deflected wide for a corner. From the resultant corner the tried and tested combination of Ndo - Peers arrived from Midfield and defence. This time however Peers headed straight into the body of Mannus when it seemed easier to score and the minimal remained between the teams going into the final ten minutes.
Mannus who had no fault in Peers opening goal almost gifted the Bit O'Red a second on 80 minutes. Blinkhorn's powerful low cross was spilled by the custodian and Kirby laid off to substitute John Dillons whose powerful drive was deflected wide amid gasps of misfortune in the Sligo stands.
Shamrock Rovers still could not find away to constructively bypass the home midfield but when Ronan Finn instinctively met a breaking ball Doyle up ended him in a dangerous position. McCabe stood over the dead ball and sent a powerful drive goal bound, Brendan Clarke was alive to the danger however and palmed the ball away to loud cheers from the home crowd. Desperation now set into the visitors play and they had four men playing in attacking positions leaving themselves open on the break.
Doyle twice came close to sealing the win. First after collecting the ball wide on the left the prolific striker cut in onto his right boot but shot over from just inside the box. Moments later and he was again on the end of a Sligo move but shot over from 8 yards when unbalanced.
Gary Twiggs reputation as a goalscorer precedes his every move and the Sligo defence had to be on guard to deny him the equaliser with his only noticeable touch of the ball in the 88th minute. McCabe found space down the right wing and found Twig with a low cross. The Scotsman's first time shot seemed destined for the net before Peers got his body in the way and the hosts cleared their lines.
Moments later and the contest was sealed by Doyle. Ndo did well to manufacture space in the centre circle before he fed John Dillon. The winger wasted no time in splitting the defence with an inch perfect ball to Doyle who calmly rounded Mannus and found the net before he was mobbed by players, staff and supporters alike in celebrations reminiscent of cup final days such is the intense rivalry between these two sides.
Three minutes of added time were added to by a fault found in the net behind Alan Mannus but the game was already sealed by the goals from Peers and Doyle. The Bit O'Red trail the Hoops now by only two points and new league leader St Pats by only four as the title chase now takes on a new complexion.
Sligo Rovers: Brendan Clarke; Alan Keane, Jason McGuinness, Gavin Peers, Aaron Greene; Richie Ryan, Joseph Ndo, Alan Kirby (John Russell, 86), Raffaele Cretaro (John Dillon, 73), Eoin Doyle; Matthew Blinkhorn Subs Not Used: Derek Foran, Daryl Horgan, Ciaran Kelly, Mark McGoldrick, Danny Ventre
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Ken Oman, Craig Sives, Enda Stevens (Gary Twigg, 60), Pat Sullivan; Billy Dennehy, Gary McCabe, Conor McCormack, Stephen Rice, Chris Turner (Ronan Finn,18); Gary O'Neill (Ciaran Kilduff, 68).
Subs Not Used: Dean Kelly, Dan Murray, Stephen O'Donnell, Ryan Thompson.
Extratime Man of the Match: Joseph Ndo, for the second week running the midfielder was immense in everything he did. Gavin Peers gets a notable mention.