Drogheda United will be thankful they don't have to return to Tallaght Stadium again this season. Shamrock Rovers, who won the EA Sports Cup last Saturday against Mick Cooke's men, have only lost once to United in 25 matches over the last six years and it was another win for Trevor Croly's team on Friday. Two goals from the in-form Thomas Stewart along with a goal from Gary McCabe were enough to earn all three points despite Gavin Brennan's goal for United.
United goalkeeper Gabriel Sava was scrambling after just three minutes as Gary McCabe's shot deflected off Philip Hand almost dropping into the far corner of the net. United cleared the subsequent corner, breaking free with former Rovers player David Cassidy playing through Mick Daly, as the full back got forward. Pat Sullivan had to head his cross behind. Cassidy took the corner and when the ball came back to him his effort could only find the side net.
On the quarter hour, the visitors had a great chance to take the lead but Graham Rusk, with the goal at his mercy, put his free header over the bar, much to the relief of the sparse Rovers home crowd. A mistake by Drogheda captain Alan McNally handed Sean O'Connor an opportunity next but his shot was easily gathered by Sava.
However the striker wasn't to be denied, as he added his second and Rovers' third in stoppage time when he took his time to gather a touch off Mark Quigley after a Sava save to end the contest. Rovers, who face Bray at home on Monday, are now only three points behind fourth place Derry with four games remaining for the Hoops. For Drogheda, it is now no wins in the last four games, but all is not lost for Drogheda as they have their Cup semi-final to come against Dundalk early next month.
Pat Sullivan and Sean O'Connor orchestrated a golden opportunity early in the second half for McCabe who rattled the cross bar with his effort. When Stewart turned McNally and played in McCabe on goal, it looked like Rovers would finally get that second goal but his shot went over the bar.
Stewart, who had been central to a lot of Rovers attacks on the night, almost construed to hand United a goal after an hour. He was dispossessed by McNally, who cut Rovers open with his pass to Rusk. The striker though allowed his shot to drag wide as Murphy came out to narrow the angle.
McCabe, playing in behind the lone striker, was finally able to exploit the space that he found for much of the night in the 63rd minute to score Shamrock Rovers' second goal. A pass from Powell, allowed him to turn and shoot on the edge of the area. His right foot shot was too powerful for Sava as it arrowed into the top corner for his fifth goal in the last six competitive games.
It could easily have been another equaliser for United two minutes later as Gavin Brennan's centre across the edge of the Rovers six-yard box couldn't be turned home by Rusk. There was another miss minutes later as Stewart ran onto a Powell clearance. His cross came to the substitute Karl Sheppard but he couldn't connect with the ball with what would have been his first touch.
The misses got worse as with just six minutes remaining substitute Declan O'Brien somehow blasted the ball over the bar from six yards from Gavin Brennan's cross. Stewart almost scored win with a minute remaining but Sava saved his shot with his legs.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Pat Sullivan, Derek Foran, Ken Oman, Conor Powell; Sean O'Connor (Karl Sheppard 69), Shane Robinson, Richie Ryan, Billy Dennehy (Mark Quigley 87); Gary McCabe; Thomas Stewart.
Subs not used: Richard Brush, Danny Ledwith, Jason McGuinness, Stephen Rice, Conor McCormack.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Mick Daly, Alan McNally, Gavin Holohan (Cathal Brady 46), Shane Grimes; Eric Foley, David Cassidy, Paul O'Conor (Ryan Brennan 61), Philip Hand, Gavin Brennan; Graham Rusk (Declan O'Brien 72).
Subs not used: Micheal Schlingermann, Peter Hynes, Jason Marks, Alan Byrne.
Referee: Paul Tuite.
Attendance: 1,500 (estimate)
Extratime Man of the Match: Thomas Stewart (Shamrock Rovers)