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Shamrock Rovers advanced to the quarter-final of the EA Sports Cup with a 2-1 away victory in United Park against Drogheda United on Monday afternoon. Goals in either half from Ciarán Kilduff and Dean Kelly put the Hoops 2-0 up before nine man Drogheda got a goal back with Eric Foley scoring from the penalty spot.
The Hoops had travelled to United Park having won on every visit to the Louth venue since April 2009 and with only one defeat in the EA Sports Cup in their last eight matches. That loss was against Drogheda in the 2012 final with the Hoops gaining revenge in last year’s final. However, the Boynesiders chances of knocking out the Hoops in this year’s competition were dealt an early blow with less than two minutes on the clock.
The Rovers strike force in their 4-4-2 formation found an opening for the Hoops to score from with 102 seconds on the clock. Karl Sheppard played a pinpoint pass through to Ciarán Kilduff who timed his run to perfection to take him in on goal. His left foot shot found the bottom corner of the net to beat Dylan Connolly in the Boynesiders’ goal.
Ronan Finn’s early injury meant that Rovers had to re-jig their midfield with Gary McCabe coming on to play on the right in a side that had eight changes from their previous game. At the back Trevor Croly had picked a youthful line up with 16-year-old Evan Osam making his first team debut alongside Sean Heaney (18), Rob Cornwall (19) and David O’Connor (22).
The visitors had to be wary of the threat of Daire Doyle and Philly Hughes up front for Drogheda. The Hoops needed David O’Connor to be in the right position at the right time to clear in the penalty area on 17 minutes when Hughes looked to get a shot away after good link up play with Doyle.
The Rovers goalkeeper Craig Hyland had an early handling error from a Sean Heaney backwards header but after that the ‘keeper dealt with everything that Drogheda threw his way in the first half with confidence. Both Doyle and Drogheda captain Gavin Brennan on two occasions stung Hyland’s gloves.
Just before the half-hour mark, Kilduff was in on goal again after getting on the end of David O’Connor’s ball over the top but he couldn’t get his second goal when shooting from an acute angle with the ball flashing just wide of the post.
His strike partner Sheppard was causing Alan McNally all sorts of difficulty McNally picked up two bookings for fouls in quick succession on Sheppard in a seven-minute period that saw him dismissed on 37 minutes. When referee Neil Doyle produced the red card, it gave Rovers a free kick in a dangerous position but Sean O’Connor couldn’t keep it on target.
Sheppard probably should have opened his own account a minute later when with Drogheda, still reeling from the red card, allowed the striker a free header in the box that he couldn’t get on target. The closest United came to scoring in the first half was a minute from the break when Brennan’s lob bounced just wide of the Rovers goal.
10 minutes into the second period Hughes had the Hoops goal at his mercy after a great run on the right by Doyle but from the edge of the six-yard box his volley went straight at Hyland. It was his last touch of the game as a minute later he was replaced by Declan O’Brien.
Whatever chance the home time had of progressing into the next round, was almost certainly gone just after the hour mark with the double blow for Drogheda of having a second man sent off and going 2-0 down. Gavin Brennan took exception to Sean O’Connor going down in the Drogheda box after a challenge by Ciaran McGuigan. The referee gave Rovers the penalty but Bayly and Brennan got involved in an altercation. Bayly went in the book and, after speaking to his assistant, Neil Doyle sent off Gavin Brennan before Dean Kelly dispatched the penalty.
Gavin’s brother Ryan Brennan, on as a second half Rovers substitute, rattled the Drogheda cross bar after a good one-two with Heaney. However, even with nine men, Drogheda were able to create some chances in the closing period of the game. Gavin Holohan cut inside and forced a fine diving save by Hyland on 79 minutes and a minute later the Boynesiders had the ball in the back of the net. Osam took down Declan O’Brien in the Rovers box and substitute Eric Foley blasted the penalty into the top left hand corner of the net.
With two extra men Rovers were able to exploit the space and pass the ball around the home team in the remaining ten minutes of the game. A Bayly shot came back off the post with a minute remaining and while Drogheda did put pressure on the opposition goal they couldn’t get an equaliser. The Hoops had done enough to book their place in the quarter final with their 11th consecutive away win in all competitions against Drogheda United.
Shamrock Rovers: Craig Hyland; Robert Cornwall, Sean Heaney, David O'Connor, Evan Osam; Ronan Finn (Gary McCabe 18), Robert Bayly, Stephen McPhail (Ryan Brennan 69), Sean O'Connor; Ciaran Kilduff (Dean Kelly 61), Karl Sheppard.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy (gk), Luke Byrne, Jason McGuinness, Shane Robinson.
Booked: Robert Bayly (61), David O’Connor (89).
Drogheda United: Dylan Connolly; Michael Daly, Alan McNally, Ciaran McGuigan, Shane Grimes; Cathal Brady (Eric Foley 67), Daire Doyle (Carl Walshe 81), Paul Crowley, Gavin Brennan (c); Gavin Holohan, Phillip Hughes (Declan O’Brien 56).
Subs Not Used: David Ryan (gk), Paul Andrews, Sean O’Connor.
Booked: Alan McNally (30 and 37), Michael Daly (47).
Sent Off: Alan McNally (37), Gavin Brennan (62).
Referee: Neil Doyle
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Karl Sheppard (Shamrock Rovers).