Gary Twigg gave Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Kenny the perfect start to the 2012 season with two well taken goals to see off Drogheda United at Hunky Dorys Park on Friday night.
The hosts fought bravely but failed to create enough chances up front and had only Dean Marshall’s first half goal to show for their efforts.
Rovers meant business from the off – Billy Dennehy immediately playing an ambitious long ball from the kick off. However this was to be one of the few reckless passes the champions would make in the opening 45 minutes and pursued a far more methodical approach thereafter attempting to exploit Drogs with balls over the top and crosses from wide.
And there were a number of close calls early on for the hosts with a combination of the offside flag, goalkeeper Gabriel Sava and sheer luck coming to their rescue. Arguably Rovers' best chance in this spell arrived after 12 minutes when Gary O’Neill got in behind the Drogs’ defence, but couldn’t beat Sava at his near post.
Billy Dennehy shone the brightest for a Rovers’ side full of stars in the opening half hour and before O’Neill’s effort, he had attempted to play in Ronan Finn with a ball over the top. On 23 minutes, his corner was met powerfully by Ken Oman who could only head over.
Indeed wide play looked Rovers’ best chance of breaking the deadlock and it seemed only a matter of time before Drogheda cracked under the bombardment. On 28 minutes Dennehy crossed again but nobody, including goalkeeper Sava, could get anywhere near it. The winger volleyed over from the edge of the box shortly after.
But the hosts weathered the pressure and having not had a shot on goal, amazingly took the lead on 34 minutes when Dean Marshall’s free kick from over 35 yards out avoided all the players assembled in the box and bounced into Oscar Jansson’s top corner.
It could have been two only minutes later had Peter Hynes taken full advantage of a poor clearance kick by Jansson.
But the lead was short lived. Stephen Rice, booked earlier for an overzealous tackle, played Gary Twigg in a minute before the break. The striker, who had never failed to score against Drogheda in Hunky Dorys Park, continued his impressive record by expertly rounding Sava and slotting home.
The second half was played in much the same vein as the first with Rovers dominating, and Drogheda limited to the odd counter attack. Stephen Rice had a speculative effort from the halfway line following a poor clearance by Sava.
Two minutes later though Rovers took full advantage when the hosts failed to deal with a cross from the troublesome Dennehy. Sava got a hand on a headed effort but Twigg was on hand to stab home his second of the night and 61st of his Premier Division career.
Drogheda registered nothing more than could be considered half chances and failed to trouble Jansson’s goal enough. On 57 minutes, Mark O’Brien had a go from 20 yards but the shot was weak and easily saved.
Down the other end Rovers continued to create chances but nothing too substantial and if Stephen Kenny is disappointed with any of his side’s performance, it will be the bigger names in his squad’s failure to link up more frequently and more threateningly.
Ronan Finn and Dennehy did link up nicely midway through the half – the latter getting a decent shot away. But the game played out in a dull fashion as both managers took the opportunity to empty the benches.
Indeed one of those substitutes, Aaron Greene making his competitive debut for Rovers, looked lively on his arrival. He shot low and hard with ten minutes to go but Sava got down well to save.
To Drogheda’s credit they never gave up and mounted a late fight back. Indeed substitute Cathal Brady could have stolen a point for the hosts three minutes from time but could only hook over on the turn after Peter Hynes had headed into the forward’s path.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Philip Hand (Chris Kerr, 72), Derek Prendergast, Alan McNally; Mark O’Brien, Shane Grimes, Dean Marshall (Cathal Brady, 83), Brian Gannon, Jack Flynn (Tiernan Mulvenna, 72); Peter Hynes.
Subs not used: Declan O’Brien, Stephen Trimble, Johnny Breen, Keith Boyle.
Bookings: Hand (22), McNally (43), Hynes (57).
Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Kerrea Gilbert, Conor Powell, Craig Sives, Ken Oman; Stephen Rice, Killian Brennan (Chris Turner, 81), Billy Dennehy, Ronan Finn; Gary Twigg, Gary O’Neill (Aaron Greene, 77)
Subs not used: Lee Steacy, Conor McCormack, Graham Gartland, Stephen O’Donnell, Sean Gannon.
Bookings: Rice (28).
Referee: Anthony Buttimer.
Extratime.ie man of the match: Gary Twigg (Shamrock Rovers).