Much maligned Drogheda United put on a rip roaring performance against Shamrock Rovers on Friday night only to fall to a last minute Gary Twigg goal at Hunky Dorys Park.
The hosts battled bravely throughout but the Scot latched onto Billy Dennehy’s flicked header deep in injury time and fired past Steven Trimble to break Drogheda hearts.
It was a game of two halves with chances at a premium and Rovers rarely tested Steven Trimble’s goal in the opening 45 minutes. Dean Kelly had the first shot of the game with only 30 seconds gone before Gary McCabe crossed dangerously. But outside of this, Rovers played second fiddle to Mick Cooke’s men.
Replacement goalkeeper Ryan Thompson handed the hosts their first and best chance of the half when he fumbled Mark O’Brien’s cross. The ball dropped to Dinny Corcoran who struck hard but couldn’t beat Pat Flynn who cleared off the line with his head.
Corcoran continued to pose problems and played no small part in Droghedas’ next dangerous move on 12 minutes. He linked up with Gavin Brennan on the edge of the box before the latter appeared to be brought down inside the area by Pat Flynn. Referee Neil Doyle waved away protestations.
The hosts, recognising Thompson’s deficiencies in dealing with the high ball, frequently worked the ball wide and could have gone in front midway through the half when Philip Hand found O’Brien at the back post. But Thompson, to his credit, saved well.
But there was no let up on the Rovers goal and four minutes later strike partner Tiarnan Mulvenna played Corcoran through with only Thompson to beat. However the forward shot weakly and the keeper saved easily.
Rovers grew into the game more just before the break with Craig Sives and McCabe both recording efforts on goal but it remained deadlocked as Neil Doyle blew for the break.
While the first half was an exhibition of open and free flowing football, the second half was a much cagier affair with goal chances at a premium. In another obvious difference from the first half Rovers looked a lot more dangerous.
This was down to the introduction of Twigg, Dennehy and Finn who all came on within five minutes of the restart. With Dennehy on the left and McCabe on his more suited right Rovers looked to the flanks as a possible outlet.
It was a change that turned the nature of the game with Drogs very much limited to counter attacks on the break hereafter. McCabe had another crack at goal just after the hour mark but Rovers main problem continued to be a failure to create genuinely goal scoring opportunities.
As the half progressed this began to change and on 72 minutes Rovers had their best chance all evening when the ball found Gary Twigg after a goalmouth scramble. But Trimble saved magnificently and you began to get the feeling it just wouldn’t be Rovers night.
Drogheda had enough chances to win it themselves and more clinical shooting and better use of possession at the critical moment would have seen the three points going their way. However, Rovers have made a habit of stealing the show in the dying moments this season and Twigg’s goal means they stay only one point behind Sligo at the top of the table.
Drogheda United: Stephen Trimble; Stephen Quigley, Philip Hand, Alan McNally, Brian Gannon; Lee Lynch, Mark O’Brien, Peter McMahon (Cillian Thompson, 85), Gavin Brennan; Dinny Corcoran, Tiarnan Mulvenna (Jordan White, 92).
Subs not used: Aaron Shanahan, Robbie Clarke, Robbie Gaul, Victor Ekanem, Keith Murray.
Bookings: Mulvenna (58), G Brennan (89).
Shamrock Rovers: Ryan Thompson; Pat Flynn, Craig Sives, Dan Murray, Enda Stevens; Conor McCormack (Billy Dennehy, 57), Stephen Rice, Stephen O’Donnell (Ronan Finn, 45), Gary McCabe; Dean Kelly, Gary O’Neill (Gary Twigg, 57).
Subs not used: Alan Mannus, Pat Sullivan, Paddy Kavanagh, Ken Oman.
Bookings: Murray (49), Flynn (83).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Attendance: 1,200 (est)
ExtraTime man of the match: Gavin Brennan (Drogheda United).