Shamrock Rovers overcame Sligo Rovers 3-2 in Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday to set up a repeat of last year’s EA Sports Cup Final against Drogheda United.
Putting thoughts of last week’s 4-0 defeat to Pat’s behind them - their worst home league defeat in a quarter of a century - the Hoops came from behind in this semi-final thanks to two goals from Gary McCabe and Karl Sheppard’s sixth goal of the season to cancel out Kieran Djilali’s early and Anthony Elding’s late Sligo goals.
It took less than 40 seconds for the Bit o’ Red to open the scoring as a mistake by Conor Powell allowed Sligo’s Raffaele Cretaro to play in Kieran Djilali on the right of the penalty area. His crisp shot beat Barry Murphy low to the goalkeeper’s right to put the visitors 1-0 up.
The equalising goal came on 17 minutes when Powell played in a left foot cross from deep that Sean O’Connor headed on to Ronan Finn. Finn headed the ball across to the Rovers captain Shane Robinson who had time to ease a pass out to Karl Sheppard. The striker had the time and space to stick the ball in-between the legs of ‘keeper Gary Rogers much to the relief of his manager Trevor Croly watching from the press box due to a one game suspension.
When Murphy slid just outside of his penalty area with the ball in his hands on 21 minutes, it allowed Sligo’s Aaron Greene size up a free-kick in a very dangerous position but he pulled the free wide. The former Shamrock Rovers player had an even better chance three minutes later when Cretaro played a delightful ball to the back post but Greene’s header failed to hit the target.
When Cretaro took down Sheppard at the edge of the visitor’s box on 26 minutes, Sean O’Connor whipped the free-kick around the Sligo wall but Evan McMillan could only return the clearance straight to O’Connor. With McCabe gesturing to his left, O’Connor fed him the ball and his right foot shot curled into the top corner of the Sligo net to send Shamrock Rovers into the lead.
With ten minutes remaining in the half, Sheppard ran onto a ball over the top by Richie Ryan, who was playing against his former club for the first time since his move back to Ireland from Dundee United. Sheppard outpaced McMillan but Rogers was out quickly from his line to smother the shot. The Sligo ‘keeper had to venture outside his area to clear but the ball went straight to O’Connor whose shot from 40 yards had the ‘keeper scrambling back but it went over the bar.
The second half was slow to get going with the play constantly broken up by fouls in the congested midfield as referee Paul McLaughlin got to use his yellow card on a regular basis. Sligo had to re-organise their defence with Evan McMillan having gone off just on the stroke of half-time and Jeff Henderson stepped in to play at centre-half.
As the game moved into the final quarter, the home side began to exert real pressure. particularly from set pieces; first McCabe was taken down by Conneely which required Rogers to punch clear, and then from a number of corners. When Sligo did break with David Cawley, it required Murphy to come quickly out of his goal to clear with his feet.
The decisive goal of the game came when Shane Robinson’s quick thinking saw him take the ball off Danny Ventre’s toe on 71 minutes with the ball running perfectly to Karl Sheppard who ran in on goal. Rogers saved once again from Sheppard and while the striker looked for a penalty in the aftermath it wasn’t required as McCabe ran onto the loose ball to blast a left foot shot in off the cross bar to make it 3-1.
Sligo substitute Anthony Elding did pull a goal back for Sligo with eight minutes remaining when he got on the end of an Aaron Greene cross and Barry Murphy had to be at his best to turn over Joseph Ndo’s shot, but it was all too little too late for Ian Baraclough’s men.
While the league title is beyond Trevor Croly’s team, it looks like the cups is where his team might prosper this season. This cup win made it 10 consecutive cup competition ties that the Hoops have won, their best cup run in 47 years. With a Setanta Sports Cup already in the trophy cabinet this season from their victory in the final over Drogheda, the Hoops will be looking to win the League Cup for only the second time in the club’s history. The final will take place on 21 September where they will face Drogheda, the reigning EA Sports Cup champions.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Conor McCormack, Derek Foran, Pat Sullivan, Conor Powell; Gary McCabe (Thomas Stewart, 85), Ronan Finn, Richie Ryan, Shane Robinson, Sean O'Connor; Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Shane Fagan, David Elebert, Danny Ledwith, Nathan Browne, James Chambers, Mark Sandford.
Booked: Murphy (21), O’Connor (53), McCormack (61).
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers, Evan McMillan (Danny Ventre, 45+1), Jeff Henderson; Kieran Djilali, Joseph Ndo, David Cawley, Seamus Conneely, Raffaele Cretaro (Anthony Elding, 66); Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Ciaran Kelly, Jake Dykes, Liam Martin, Pascal Millien. Lee Lynch.
Booked: Cretaro (29), Peers (39), Henderson (57).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Attendance: 1,500 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gary McCabe (Shamrock Rovers).