Two goals from Gary Twigg helped Shamrock Rovers to a much needed win over Drogheda United at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night but the 3-1 scoreline could not disguise an uncertain performance from a side that have not yet recovered their confidence.
Rovers are not having the best of times lately, as anyone who was at the Showgrounds last weekend will be able to testify. After a promising start to the campaign, Stephen Kenny’s men have struggled for form and their 3-0 defeat to Sligo Rovers merely capped a four game run without a win.
Drogheda too have a form book that in recent weeks belies their lofty position of joint third in the table. Coming in to this game Mick Cooke’s side had won just one of their five previous outings. A scrappy beginning, then, was not wholly to be unexpected.
Rovers could have been ahead as early as the fifth minute when Gary O’Neill picked up a loose pass from Drogheda full back Philip Hand and showed great strength to hold off Derek Prendergast before sliding a low shot narrowly wide. But the majority of the opening half hour was a case of endeavour winning out over quality.
A hint of what Rovers are capable of came on 11 minutes when Gary Twigg won a header and O’Neill swept the ball wide to Gary McCabe. He found the overlapping Kerea Gilbert with a clever pass but the full back’s cross was cleared by Drogheda’s Alan McNally.
Killian Brennan also created a half chance, chipping just over the Drogheda bar on 24 minutes, but apart from these few incidents there was little enough to encourage the home support before McCabe gave Rovers the lead just after the half hour mark.
O’Neill again found McCabe on the right with a swift and accurate ball, and this time the winger fired a low shot past Gabriel Sava from 15 yards.
Drogheda could hardly complain. They created a few moments of their own, McNally heading inches wide on 37 minutes and Sean Brennan coming close with a powerful effort from distance, but they seemed content to hit on the break and threatened only occasionally.
Rovers were clearly on top and in the minutes leading up to the break Twigg was denied from close range by Sava while Billy Dennehy ploughed the ball home from point blank range only to be denied by the assistant’s flag.
The second goal did come ten minutes into the second half when Gary Twigg finished off a neat one-two with McCabe by shooting home from ten yards. Three minutes later they might have put the result beyond doubt when O’Neill again created an opening, feeding off Dennehy’s astute pass and playing Twigg into space just eight yards from goal. Twigg’s poked effort was well saved by Sava.
A spell of defensive panic briefly threatened to derail the home side but Drogheda failed to take advantage and Killian Brennan was the depth of Gabriel Sava’s fingerprint away from a third on 63 minutes. Looking up from 25 yards out, Brennan curled an inch perfect shot towards the top right corner of the Drogheda goal. Somehow Sava managed to claw the ball out.
From here on Rovers looked comfortable with McCabe and O’Neill continuing to look dangerous whenever they had the ball at their feet. Killian Brennan smacked a 30 yard free kick off Sava’s crossbar on 75 minutes before Gary Twigg added a third eight minutes from time, heading home from point blank range when Drogheda failed to clear a Dennehy corner.
As if to remind the home fans that there remain frailties in their side’s make-up, Declan O’Brien was allowed to swivel and shoot from the edge of the box in the final minute of play. The ball sailed past Jansson for what was little more than a consolation, but it precipitated a final few minutes of panic along the Rovers back line that will not have impressed Stephen Kenny.
A worthy win, then, but hints of why Shamrock Rovers are struggling to retain their status league champions.
Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Kerea Gilbert (Sean Gannon 46), Craig Sives, Ken Oman, Conor Powell; Gary McCabe (Conor McCormack 87), Killian Brennan, Stephen Rice, Billy Dennehy; Gary O’Neill (Daryl Kavanagh, 85), Gary Twigg.
Subs Not Used: Reyaad Pieterse, Colin Hawkins, Stephen O’Donnell, Aaron Greene.
Bookings: K Brennan (77).
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Eric Foley, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Philip Hand; Gavin Brennan, Paul Crowley (Mark O’Brien 64), Ryan Brennan, Sean Brennan (Dean Marshall 72); Declan O’Brien, Tiarnan Mulvenna (Peter Hynes 63).
Subs Not Used: Shane Finnegan, Conor O’Keefe, Cathal Brady, Johnny Breen.
Bookings: Crowley (17), Prendergast (24), R Brennan (57), G Brennan (77).
Referee: Alan Kelly.
Extratime Man of the Match: Gary O’Neill (Shamrock Rovers).