A Danny North double helped Sligo Rovers to a convincing 3-1 victory over a timid Drogheda United side at Hunky Dorys Park on Friday.
Drogs manager Mick Cooke was left with a depleted squad after the late withdrawals of Ryan and Gavin Brennan due to a bout of flu. With Paul Crowley still missing through injury, Sean Brennan and Mark O’Brien were handed midfield berths in their absence.
After a high-octane start, Gavin Peers got the ball rolling for the Bit o’Red on nine minutes with his header. Despite their dominance, Sligo were made wait another 26 minutes before North’s flicked finish eluded Gabriel Sava in the Drogs net. A comeback looked possible after Declan O’Brien’s well directed header before half time, but any lingering hopes of an upset were quashed by North’s clinical finish on 79.
The visitors stamped their authority on the game from the off, and were the first to register an effort on goal as Danny North’s five yard header from a corner inched wide of Sava’s right-hand post.
A thirty yard daisy-cutter from Mark Quigley flew agonisingly wide of the same post, as a Drogs midfield shorn of the missing Brennan brothers found real difficulty in dictating the tempo of the game.
By now the Westerners had assumed total control, and the inevitable arrived in the ninth minute as Ian Baraclough’s team broke the deadlock.
A well flighted corner from Ross Gaynor caused panic in the Drogheda box. A game of pinball ensued, before Peers rose highest to power an unstoppable effort past the stranded Sava.
As the half wore on, Sligo’s dominance waned somewhat, allowing Boynesiders some reasonable spells in possession.
The home crowd were left indignant with rage on 23 as one such spell culminated in a shot from the edge of the box which was foiled by an alleged hand-ball, but oblivious to this perceived injustice, Rovers launched an incisive counter attack which saw North thwarted by Sava at the last minute as he attempted to double the visitors’ lead.
Sligo acclimatised better to the greasy conditions underfoot, and the visitors doubled their lead on 35. A mazy run from Gaynor down the left wing resulted in him whipping a wicked ball low to the inrushing North, who showed all his predatory instincts to flick the cross past the hapless Sava.
To Drogheda’s credit, they dusted themselves down after that potentially demoralising blow, and proceeded to halve the visitors’ lead four minutes later.
Some good work by Brian Gannon down the left wing saw him lay the ball off to Shane Grimes, whose precision cross from the byline was met by the head of Declan O’Brien, who squeezed a sumptuous glancing header between ex-Drog Gary Rogers and his near post to re-ignite the contest.
As the second half commenced, both teams found trouble imposing their respective styles on the game, and the quality of the match suffered as a result.
Indeed, it wasn’t until 13 minutes of the second period had elapsed before either team registered an effort of note. As the newly re-invigorated Drogs went about restoring parity, Brian Gannon’s right wing cross found the head of goalscorer O’Brien, but his fleeting touch could not direct the ball towards the now redundant Rogers.
Despite a more coherent passing display, this was as good as it was to get for United. Jason McGuinness’ header almost consolidated Rovers’ victory, but the towering centre-back blazed over with the goal at his mercy.
Another lull period followed, before Sligo dealt the decisive blow. After a sustained spell of pressure on the away goal, the Bit o’Red emerged with possession, and launched a trademark lightning counter attack which saw the ball land at the feet of Quigley, whose delicately threaded through ball was picked up by North.
With just the ‘keeper to beat, the Englishman dispatched a composed effort past the Drogs custodian to effectively end the tie as a contest.
Sligo could well have embellished a thoroughly dominant display five minutes later. After a defensive slip by Prendergast, Raffaele Cretaro was presented with a one-on-one situation, but he blasted over from 15 yards despite the abundance of time and space at his disposal.
The defeat marks Drogheda’s first in the league since the opening day reverse against Shamrock Rovers, while it’s a case of onwards and upwards for Baraclough’s charges who now lead the table by four points ahead of another crunch tie with the defending league champions next week.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes; Brian Gannon, Eric Foley, Sean Brennan (Dean Marshall 89), Mark O'Brien (Peter Hynes 77); Tiarnan Mulvenna (Cathal Brady 74), Declan O'Brien.
Subs Not Used: Stephen Trimble, Philip Hand, Chris Kerr, Johnny Breen.
Bookings: M O'Brien (69), Grimes (74), Gannon (90+2).
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Danny Ventre, Gavin Peers, Jason McGuinness, Iarfhlaith Davoren; Romauld Boco, Raffaele Cretaro, David Cawley, Ross Gaynor; Mark Quigley (John Dillon 82), Danny North (Lee Lynch 90+2).
Subs Not Used: Richard Brush, Jake Dykes, Liam Martin, Pascal Millien, Marty Owens.
Bookings: Boco (13), Ventre (38).
Referee: Damien Hancock.