by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United suffered their fifth straight league defeat as Shamrock Rovers ran out comfortable 3-0 winners at Hunky Dorys Park.
The Hoops finally broke through the Drogheda rearguard as a clinical five minute spell in the second half saw a brace from substitute Gary McCabe and a long range thunderbolt from Sean O’Connor reflect Rovers’ dominance on the score line.
Mick Cooke made five changes from the Drogs last league game, a 1-0 defeat away to Cork a fortnight ago as suspensions and injuries meant that United only named six players on the bench while the visitors lined out with an unchanged side from the win over Limerick.
A scrappy opening ensued, perhaps as a result of the midseason break as both sides struggled to get a foothold early on but it was Rovers who produced the first opportunity to break the deadlock. Billy Dennehy evaded the challenge of Stephen Quigley and his cross was met by the onrushing James Chambers who headed wide from eight yards when it seemed easier to score.
Gavin Brennan then tested Richard Brush in the Rovers goal on 20 minutes as clever interplay between Peter Hynes and Gary O’Neill saw the ball worked out to the left and Brennan’s half volley was tipped around the post by the relieved Brush.
The highlight of a tight and tense first half came from United’s Hynes as he audaciously attempted to chip Brush from inside his own half but the backtracking keeper was at full stretch to save his effort.
The Hoops grew into the game as the first half developed and their pressure was nearly rewarded on the stroke of halftime as a corner kick from James Chambers was flapped at by Gabriel Sava, however, both Derek Foran and Ken Oman missed the ball at the back post.
Rovers squandered further chances early in the second half. With 55 minutes on the clock, Drogheda nearly shot themselves in the foot as a United corner somehow presented Thomas Stewart with a clear path to goal but having started from inside his own half, he failed to have the required pace to test Sava in goal.
The ex-Lazio net minder then produced a spectacular save to deny Stewart again as he tipped his goal bound effort onto the post as Rovers continued to play through Drogheda at will but their pressure was soon rewarded.
Within three minutes of coming on for the ineffective Dennehy, McCabe headed the Hoops into the lead. O’Neill was dispossessed on the halfway line as Stephen Rice was allowed to make his way to the edge of the box and his cross was headed home at the back post by the unmarked McCabe.
It was 2-0 within sixty seconds. Drogheda once again failed to retain possession from kick off and the ball bounced invitingly in front of O’Connor whose half volley from 35 yards flew into the bottom corner of the net before Sava could even react.
A crazy five minute spell was compounded on 74 as McCabe once again headed unmarked past Sava from an O’Connor cross as Drogheda heads dropped and fears arose that there could be a repeat of the 7-1 mauling in the Setanta Cup Final.
Rovers missed further chances to add to their lead as they comfortably saw out the remainder of the game as they remain within touching distance to the top four.
As for the home side, two huge cup games in the next week presents a chance to deflect attention away from their league position as serious concerns remain that they may be dragged into a relegation battle.
by Robert O'Reilly
Mick Cooke will have a depleted squad to chose from as Drogheda United return to League of Ireland action against Shamrock Rovers at Hunky Dorys Park, kick off 7.45pm.
Drogheda will be without the suspended quartet of Alan Byrne, Alan McNally, Ryan Brennan and David Cassidy while Phillip Hand will be unavailable due to injury as is Eric Foley who may miss the remainder of the campaign following a Hernia operation.
Defender David Elebert will definitely miss the game for Rovers, with Jason McGuinness a doubt. Mark Quigley is available for selection with the striker having trained both this week with the squad and last week during the league break following his recent injury lay-off.
This is the first time that the sides have met since the Hoops trashed Drogheda 7-1 in the Setanta Cup Final while United held Rovers 1-1 in Tallaght back in April, Paul O’Conor opening the scoring before Ronan Finn levelled matters.
Rovers currently sit in fifth place in the league on 27 points, three places and eight points ahead of the hosts as Cooke looks to get his side back on track having lost four of the five league games since the Setanta Cup Final defeat in May.
“It’s a good game to re-start the league with; I said from earlier on in the season that you should never write off Shamrock Rovers. Trevor has a big squad but I think they have found their form in the last few weeks. We went up there earlier in the season and had a 1-1 draw.
“We have a few lads out for tomorrow night, but I think this just presents an opportunity to the rest of the lads in the squad to put their hands up for a starting place. We have two games before Thursday and I said that we need the game time, we have a few lads who haven’t played in a month.
“We are fully focused on tomorrow night and then the quarter-final on Monday, we’ve always taken one game at a time and the lads know what they need to do. No-one is getting ahead of themselves. We have lost our last four games, but I’ve never been unhappy with the performances, it’s something we are working on and we are using as a motivating factor. “
Graham Rusk (Cathal Brady 79’)
Paul O’Conor (Ciaran McGahon 79’)
Gavin Brennan (Jason Marks 79’)
Sean McCormack (Pat Sullivan 58’)
James Chambers (Shane Robinson 76’)
Billy Dennehy (Gary McCabe 66’)
Gary McCabe (69’,74’)
Sean O’Connor (70’)