Drogheda United 2 - 3 Sligo Rovers
For the second year in succession the FAI Cup final produced a five goal thriller as Sligo Rovers defeated Drogheda United in the most thrilling of circumstances to lift their third FAI trophy in four years.
Both teams started well, defying the convention of nervy starts in major finals, and although neither team produced any penetrating moves in the opening stages both Drogheda and Sligo played some coherent and organised football through midfield.
With Alan Byrne covering well in front of his back four it was Mick Cooke’s Drogheda side that edged the opening ten minutes although it took a stray back pass from Gavin Peers to produce the first ball into either penalty area, Iarfhlaith Davoren clearing Ryan Brennan’s corner after nine minutes.
Sligo responded with a neat move originating with a long diagonal ball from keeper Gary Rogers in which Aaron Greene and Anthony Elding exchanged headers before Greene set up Kieran Djilali to shoot, weak and wide, from 15 yards out.
Raffaele Cretaro then released Greene with an excellent through ball that might have caused serious problems for Drogheda but for some solid covering from right full Mick Daly.
Then came the opener, when persistence and vision from Ryan Brennan released David Cassidy on the left and his perfectly timed pass sent Shane Grimes to the byline. From there the full back cut the ball back into the path of Paul O’Conor who gleefully side-footed into the roof of the Sligo net.
Drogheda continued to play with composure and on nineteen minutes O’Conor played Gavin Brennan through with a ball over the top, forcing Gavin Peers into a well timed covering clearance.
Sligo did not create a genuine opening until the 26th minute when they should really have levelled the scores. Djilali fed Davoren on the left and his excellent low cross just eluded Danny Ventre on the edge of the six yard box.
But this signalled a period of concerted pressure from Sligo and Drogheda were forced to defend several free kicks which had been conceded in dangerous areas. Cassidy charged down an effort from Ventre on 27 minutes, while a crucial intervention from Prendergast denied Elding four minutes later when the Sligo striker had been played through by Greene.
On 37 minutes Sligo had the ball in the net, Elding heading home from six yards after Ventre’s cut back from the end-line, but the linesman’s flag ruled it out and replays showed that the ball had, indeed, gone out of play.
Thereafter Drogheda steadied the ship somewhat and ended the half with their lead intact. Moments after the restart they nearly doubled it when Mick Daly surged down the right and found O’Conor in the centre. The former UCD midfielder attempted to play in Ryan Brennan and it took a smart saving tackle from Peers to protect the Sligo goal.
Sligo applied some pressure to a stout Drogheda defence with both full backs, Keane and Davoren, getting down the flanks while Djilali and Cretaro also looked sharp on the ball. But Drogheda remained a danger on the break and Peers was again called into action on 52 minutes when a courageous block was required to deny O’Conor whose fiercely hit shot looked destined to hit the target.
With just over an hour played Gavin Brennan thought he had scored a second for Drogheda when he athletically headed home Ryan Brennan’s cross at the back post, but like Elding before him he found that the linesman’s flag had spoiled the moment.
With twenty minutes remaining, and Sligo still in arrears, Ian Baraclough sent on Danny North in place of Cretaro as the westerners set up in a more direct 4-4-2. But the chances were now being forged at the other end.
Peers was again in the right place to get in the way of Gavin Brennan’s effort from Cassidy’s low struck free, Elding completing the clearance from the Sligo goal-line. And a cracking diagonal pass from Ryan Brennan sent O’Brien chasing down the right. His cross found Grimes who in turn fed Gavin Brennan but his attempt from a tight angle lacked bite.
With just 12 minutes remaining Sligo finally penetrated the Drogheda back-line. A corner from the left by Ndo was met by Elding and his glancing header grazed off Alan Byrne before arriving at substitute North who hooked home at the back post.
Five minutes later Alan Keane slipped through an Alan Byrne challenge and was only stopped by a foul from Prendergast twenty yards from goal. Prendergast was booked and Ndo lined up the free, hooking the ball over the wall for North to turn the game on its head and blast home his second goal of the game.
Chaos ensued as Drogheda protested bitterly about the manner of the free. Prendergast received a second yellow in as many minutes and made the long walk to the dressing-rooms while North was booked for his celebrations. When order was restored Sligo’s rock, Peers, suffered a game-ending injury, all of which resulted in eight minutes of added time.
With two added minutes played Drogheda contrived a dramatic equaliser, Shane Grimes launching a hopeful ball through the middle that somehow reached Ryan Brennan. Brennan didn’t pause and tucked a simple finish past the exposed Rogers in Sligo’s goal. But the Drogs’ joy was short-lived.
In the fourth minute of added time Djilali pulled a cross into the Drogheda box which North cleverly chested towards Elding. Swivelling to hit the ball on the spin Elding delivered the ball high past Schlingermann and with that the pendulum had swung, with melodramatic haste, back in Sligo’s favour.
The remaining minutes were played at a furious pace with both teams threatening to get through and add yet more drama to an already remarkable match. But, finally, time ran out for the Drogs and Paul Tuite’s whistle, when it came, signalled a third FAI up victory in four years for Sligo Rovers.
Drogheda United: Micheal Schlingermann; Mick Daly, Derek Prendergast, Alan McNally, Shane Grimes; Alan Byrne (Peter Hynes 90); David Cassidy, Paul O’Connor (Graham Rusk 77), Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Philip Hand, Cathal Brady, Eric Foley, Jason Marks.
Booked: G Brennan (67), O’Brien (69), Byrne (72), Prendergast (83).
Sent Off: Prendergast (86).
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers, Jeff Henderson (Evan McMillan 65), Iarfhlaith Davoren; Joseph Ndo, Danny Ventre; Raffaele Cretaro (Danny North 70), Kieran Djilali, Aaron Greene (Ross Gaynor 84); Anthony Elding.
Subs not used: Ciaran Kelly, Seamus Conneely, David Cawley, Lee Lynch.
Booked: E McMillan (71).
Referee: Paul Tuite.
Extratime Man of the Match: Gavin Peers (Sligo Rovers).