by Shane O'Callaghan
Drogheda United slumped to a third straight defeat as Mick Cooke’s men went down 3-1 to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
Thomas Stewart bagged a double in the victory, with the 26-year-old opening the scoring on 24 minutes, before the Boynesiders hit back in splendid fashion through Gavin Brennan ten minutes later.
Gary McCabe restored the lead for the Hoops midway through the second half, with Stewart securing the points in stoppage time.
Cooke named four changes to his starting lineup for the visit to the capital, as Paul O’Conor, Gavin Brennan, David Cassidy and Graham Rusk were all afforded starting berths after being omitted for the defeat to Cork City on Tuesday evening.
The Boynesiders, who have lost two cup finals to Trevor Croly’s men this season, looked keen to atone for their recent shortcomings in Tallaght in the early exchanges, with Cassidy and Rusk both dispatching efforts on goal within the opening six minutes.
Croly’s charges grew in confidence as the half grew older and it was not long before frailties within the Drogheda defence began to evoke memories of the 7-1 defeat in the Setanta Cup final.
Shane Grimes, who deputised for the suspended Derek Prendergast in the heart of defence, gifted possession to McCabe deep in his own half, but his first-time chip to the unmarked Stewart was slightly over hit and the make-shift centre-half was left to breath a sigh of relief.
The hosts took the lead when goalkeeper Gabriel Sava failed to push Richie Ryan’s side-footed effort to safety, allowing the in-form marksman to tap home from close range. 1-0.
Minutes later the Dubliners should have doubled their advantage. McCabe capitalised on a defensive error by Phillip Hand in his own area, but the 24-year-old sliced horribly wide of the target and conceded a throw-in.
It would prove a costly miss, as the visitors were soon level. Paul O’Conor surged toward the opposition goal, before squaring to the unmarked Brennan who, despite seemingly having a tap-in, cut back inside to his unfavoured right foot and swept past goalkeeper Barry Murphy on 35 minutes.
Rovers came within millimeters of restoring their lead early in the second half, as the problematic Gary McCabe expertly controlled on his chest before seeing his thumping volley cannon off the frame of the goal.
Drogheda’s Graham Rusk spurned arguably the best chance of the game, pulling his shot wide of Murphy’s goal after being played through by defender Alan McNally. And Rusk would soon rue the missed opportunity, as McCabe found his elusive goal, thumping past Sava from just inside the area on 63 minutes.
Cooke’s men responded well to the goal deficit and the visitors came agonisingly close to providing an immediate riposte. Eric Foley executed a superb lofted pass out to Gavin Brennan on the left, who passed across the face of goal hoping a claret shirt would convert but the sliding leg of Rusk was not long enough to prod the goal home.
Declan O’Brien replaced Rusk for the remaining 20 minutes, and the markskman will feel that he should have restored parity after blazing over from close range following a neat cut-back by Gavin Brennan.
However, United would pay the penalty for missed opportunities, as Stewart secured his double and his team’s victory in the closing stages, collecting a loose ball at the by-line before curling into an empty net to seal the win.
Cooke and his team will travel to Tolka Park to take on Shelbourne on Monday, before turning their attentions toward more pressing matters in the form of a FAI Ford Cup semi-final with Dundalk on October 6.
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will travel to Tallaght for the final time this season as they face Shamrock Rovers in the Airtricity League, kick off 8pm.
Derek Prendergast is still suspended having been sent off in the EA Sports Cup final defeat while Gavin Brennan returns to the side after he was rested due to a shoulder injury.
The Drogs suffered a 3-2 defeat at home to Cork City on Tuesday as manager Mick Cooke made seven changes from the side that lost 2-0 to Rovers in the final.
The result leaves Drogheda languishing in seventh place in the league and their away form is of concern having only recorded three wins away from Hunky Dorys Park in the league this season.
Shamrock Rovers look certain to finish the campaign in fifth place as they trail Derry City, who have a game in hand, by six points with five games to play.
Rovers manager Trevor Croly has concerns over the fitness of Ronan Finn and Richie Ryan, both of whom were rested during the 2-0 reverse to Limerick midweek.
Friday will mark the fifth time that United have played at Tallaght stadium this season having been defeated by the Hoops in two cup finals while it hosted their Europa League first round Qualifying tie against Malmo.
The last time that the teams met at this venue in the league was back in April when an early Paul O’Conor header was cancelled out by a strike from Finn in a 1-1 draw.
peaking ahead of the game, Drogheda United assistant manager Robbie Horgan is confident that his side can gain some momentum ahead of Sunday week’s Ford FAI Cup semi-final clash against Dundalk.
“It feels a bit more like earlier in the season when we were constantly putting good performances together but just not getting the results. I thought we deserved something from the Cork game.
“But the main priority now is to start getting wins on the board; we have some big games coming up over the next week.
“The lads will be confident going back up to Tallaght, I think we were the better team on Saturday and just one or two mistakes cost us, but we have looked at that and we’ll need to tighten up.“
Sean O’Connor (Karl Shepphard 69’)
Billy Dennehy (Mark Quigley 87’)
Gavan Holohan (Cathal Brady 45’)
Paul O’Conor (Ryan Brennan 62’)
Graham Rusk (Declan O’Brien 72’)
Thomas Stewart 25’
Gary McCabe 63’
Thomas Stewart 90+1’
Gavin Brennan 35’