by Robert O'Reilly
Anthony Elding struck a dramatic 94th minute winner as Sligo Rovers defeated plucky Drogheda United 3-2 in a thrilling yet controversial FAI Cup final at the Aviva Stadium.
Paul O’Conor gave Drogheda an early lead before supersub Danny North struck twice late on to put the Bit O’Red in front. Ryan Brennan’s 92nd minute effort seemed certain to send the game into extra time before Elding fired high into the roof of the net to win the Cup.
Both sides started brightly and it was Sligo who had the first effort of the game on eleven minutes, clever interplay between Aaron Greene and Elding resulted in the former picking out the run of Kieran Djilali but the Englishman failed to keep his first time effort on target.
Drogheda went in front a couple of minutes later as they counter-attacked swiftly from a Sligo corner. O’Conor picked up the loose ball on the edge of his own box and he passed to Ryan Brennan who evaded the challenge of Gavin Peers before playing in David Cassidy. The Dubliner used the overlapping run of Shane Grimes and the full back’s low cross found O’Conor who completed a 75 yard run to place the ball high into the net.
Sligo came close to levelling affairs on 26 minutes as Djilali’s wonderful through ball down the left released Iarfhlaith Davoren and his cross was palmed away by Micheal Schlingermann with Sligo captain Danny Ventre waiting to capitalise.
The Bit O’Red were now firmly in the ascendancy and they had a goal ruled out on 37 minutes, the assistant referee correctly adjudging that the ball had gone out of play before Ventre crossed for Elding to head into the bottom corner.
United missed an excellent chance to double their lead on the stroke of half time, a Cassidy set piece found Alan McNally unmarked ten yards out but the defender directed his header well wide of the goal.
A frenetic start to the second period saw Sligo mount serious pressure on the Drogheda goal however, it was United who were next to put the ball in the net on the hour mark.
Cassidy and Declan O’Brien exchanged passes on the right wing before the ball was knocked back to Ryan Brennan whose first time cross was headed by brother Gavin beyond Gary Rogers only to be disallowed for an apparent foul on Alan Keane in the build-up.
Drogheda missed a further chance to go 2-0 up when Cassidy’s clever free kick on the byline found Gavin Brennan in the box but his effort was brilliantly blocked by Gavin Peers with Elding denying O’Conor from the follow up on the goal-line.
With 78 minutes played, Sligo equalised. A Joseph Ndo corner from the right deflected off the chest of Alan Byrne into the path of North who acrobatically volleyed the ball past Gavin Brennan on the line.
Drogheda almost regained the lead straight from kickoff, Gavin Brennan pressurised Alan Keane into losing possession and his cross into the box was punched by Rogers straight to Cassidy whose looping header landed on the roof of the net.
Sligo took the lead for the first time in the game with only five minutes to play from a controversial free kick 20 yards from goal. Joseph Ndo flicked the ball over the Drogheda wall to North who fired into the bottom corner and despite no whistle from referee Paul Tuite to signal that the free could be taken, he allowed the goal to stand.
United players surrounded the referee in protest and captain Derek Prendergast was shown a straight red card as both sides finished the game with ten men with Gavin Peers leaving the game on a stretcher with Sligo having made all three substitutions.
With eight minutes of added time, Drogheda pushed forward in hope of an equaliser and it arrived two minutes in. A long, hopeful ball forward from Cassidy made its way through to Ryan Brennan on the edge of the box and the midfielder calmly slotted past the advancing Rogers much to the ecstasy of the Drogheda fans.
It was short lived though as this incredible game took one final twist. Djilali manoeuvred a yard of space down the right and he swung a deep cross into the box which was flicked on by North into the path of Elding who swivelled and volleyed past Schlingermann to give Sligo victory.
As for United, it was a heartbreaking third Cup final defeat of the season in manager Mick Cooke’s final game in charge.
Derek Prendergast ©
Alan Byrne (Peter Hynes 90’)
Paul O’Conor (Graham Rusk 76’)
Jeff Henderson (Evan McMillan 65’)
Raffaele Cretaro (Danny North 70’)
Aaron Greene (Ross Gaynor 84’)
Paul O’Conor 14’
Ryan Brennan 90+2’
Danny North 78’,85’
Anthony Elding 90+4’