by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United have been relegated to the First Division after they lost 5-3 away to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght stadium.
That result, coupled with Limerick’s 3-1 win away to Sligo Rovers, means Drogheda finished the campaign in 12th place and face their first season outside the top flight in 14 years.
The Boynesiders made three changes from the side that lost 3-0 to Longford Town with Ger Pender, Adam Whelan and Robert O’Reilly replacing Robert Bayly, Keith Treacy and the suspended Joe Gorman.
Drogheda started well and created the first opportunity of the game on 16 minutes as Sean Thornton’s corner kick from the right was only partially cleared as far as Sean Brennan whose controlled effort from distance was palmed behind by Barry Murphy.
From the resulting corner, United were ahead as Thornton’s delivery was met by Alan Byrne with Murphy once again equal to the shot but Mick Daly pounced on the rebound for his fourth goal of the season.
Rather than build on the lead, the hosts were level straight from kick-off as Gary McCabe was afforded too much space on the right and his cross was cleared across his own goal by Byrne with the ball cruelly deflecting into the Drogheda net off the helpless O’Reilly.
In frantic opening half hour, Drogheda regained the lead when a quickly taken free kick deep in the Rovers half by Brennan found Tiarnan Mulvenna who took on the defender before working a yard of space and curling a low shot into the far corner of the goal.
United continued to push forward in search of a third goal before half time and the industrious Thornton came close to adding it as his free kick clipped the wall and was spilled by Murphy before gathering the ball at the second attempt.
Rovers were awarded a penalty only ten minutes into the second half as Byrne pulled down Conor Kenna in the are and Danny North sent Drogheda United goalkeeper Micheál Schlingermann the wrong way to level the score.
Despite needing a goal by virtue of Limerick’s lead in Sligo, Drogheda were on the back foot for much of the second period and they fell behind with 15 minutes left to play as the midfield failed to close down Brandon Miele and his stinging drive was parried by Schlingermann with North reacting quicker than Byrne to give the Hoops the lead for the first time on the night.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors as Mikey Drennan picked out the run of Kieran Marty Waters who waltzed through the defence before finding the bottom corner and effectively sealing Drogheda’s fate.
Substitute Lee Duffy pulled a goal back for United with two minutes left to play as he took the ball beyond Kenna before firing into the roof of the net from an acute angle for his eight goal in all competitions, Drogheda’s leading goalscorer this season.
Rovers clinched their victory in stoppage time as Daly was adjudged to have brought down Drennan in the box with North sealing his hat-trick from the spot while Drogheda were reduced to ten men with Thornton shown a red card for dissent.
Despite only finding themselves bottom of the table for the first time this year on the final day of the season, 19 league defeats in 33 games tells its own story with a promotion push the challenge at United Park next season.
Pat Cregg (Michael Drennan 66)
Stephen McPhail (Ryan Brennan 83)
Damien Duff (Kieran Marty Waters 80)
Sean Thornton (Keith Treacy 61)
Sean Brennan (Liam Donnelly 78)
Adam Whelan (Lee Duffy 71)