Drogheda United have one foot in the Setanta Cup final having dispatched Sligo Rovers 2-0 at Hunky Dorys Park on Tuesday night.
This not only marks Sligo’s first loss of the season, but it’s the Bit O’Red’s third straight defeat to Drogheda in three different competitions, all at Hunky Dorys Park and all three seeing Drogheda score twice. More importantly for the Boynesiders, it’s their first clean sheet since they beat Glentoran at Solitude and with the away goal rule in play it’s a huge advantage going to the Showgrounds on Monday night. It wasn’t a very happy birthday either for Anthony Elding as the now 31-year-old had several chances but failed to convert.
After a slow opening Sligo, and in particular Aaron Greene, seemed to take the initiative. With five minutes on the clock the Bit O’ Red had moved the ball into the Drogheda half and Greene, about 20 yards out, turned and fired a shot which had Sava beaten all ends up but the crossbar denied him a deserved goal.
A very patient and probing Drogheda side had to wait until 15 minutes for their first real chance. David Cassidy has been taking the set-piece duties with Eric Foley out and his corner was met beautifully by Derek Prendergast, but David Cawley was back on the post to head the ball clear.
Sligo immediately went downfield and earned themselves a free on the left side of the Drogheda box and Danny Ventre spied that Sava had drifted a little too far right and curled a shot towards the near corner, but Sava, possibly un-sighted, scrambled across to boot the ball off the line.
Anthony Elding has been prolific this season, but he was guilty of some glaring misses. The first came on 22 minutes as Ryan Connolly broke on the wing and with Aaron Greene on the overlap Connolly threaded a pass through and Greene crossed to the back post where Elding was un-marked. But the striker headed the ball back across the face of goal when it would have been easier to score.
Sligo were made to pay for that miss two minutes later when the Boynesiders took the lead. A Rory Delap-esque throw from Alan Byrne was headed out by Gavin Peers only for Gary O’Neill to hit a spectacular overhead volley and leave Gary Rogers with no chance.
Just over ten minutes later the Boynesiders doubled their lead with a bit of route one football. It’s not the first time a Sava clearance has lead to a goal and once again the Italian hoofed the ball downfield for Gavin Brennan to deftly chip over the top and David Cassidy needed only one touch to sweetly lob Gary Rogers. It’s the first time Sligo have conceded twice in a game this season and they could have no complaints about either goal.
Frustration crept into the Bit O’Red as Gavin Peers was carded a minute after the goal, but they persisted with their tactic of using Ryan Connolly on the left wing and only for a Derek Prendergast interception on 40 minutes Elding would have had another chance from a Connolly cross.
Drogheda started the second-half but sensing that things needed to be changed, Ian Baraclough introduced Pascal Millien in the 64th minute. The Haitian decimated Drogheda last season when Sligo were 4-1 winners at the Showgrounds and he proved to be a constant threat in the EA Sports Cup semi-final also, but this time around he failed to make a real impact in the game, although Sligo did enjoy their best period after his introduction.
Millien was the provider for another Elding chance on 71 minutes. From a corner Elding again was unmarked at the back post but he headed the ball downward and Sava easily gathered.
The Boynesiders never gave Sligo any real time on the ball, in particular Alan Byrne appeared to be playing a dual role of central defender and defensive midfielder as he constantly pressed the ball.
Drogheda could have and probably should have ended the tie in injury time when Brian Gannon swung in a pass from the right wing and Ryan Brennan flashed a header across the face of goal.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Brian Gannon, Alan Byrne (Alan McNally 87), Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes; Ryan Brennan, Paul O’Conor, David Cassidy, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien (Graham Rusk 81), Gary O’Neill.
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Stephen Quigley, Philip Hand, Michael Daly, Peter Hynes.
Bookings: Shane Grimes.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers (Even McMillan 90+1), Jeff Henderson, Iarfhlaith Davoren; Kieran Djilali (Pascal Millien 64), David Cawley, Danny Ventre, Aaron Greene, Ryan Connolly (Lee Lynch 72); Anthony Elding.
Subs not used: Adam Murphy, Ross Gaynor, Liam Martin, Rafaele Cretaro.
Referee: Mark Courtney.
Extratime Man of the Match: Alan Byrne (Drogheda United).