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Tuesday 16 September 2014

Rovers' tame exit from Cup

Published 10/06/2014 | 05:40

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John Russell, Sligo Rovers, keeps hold of possession against Richie Towell, Dundalk during the FAI Ford Cup Second Round clash at Oriel Park in Dundalk.

It might only be the start of June but the remainder of the season looks seriously in jeopardy for Sligo Rovers after their defence of the FAI Cup ended with a whimper in Oriel Park on Friday night.

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It might only be the start of June but the remainder of the season looks seriously in jeopardy for Sligo Rovers after their defence of the FAI Cup ended with a whimper in Oriel Park on Friday night.

For the second time in the space of a month Ian Baraclough's side were beaten 3-0 by Dundalk. The disappointing thing on this occasion was that they didn't learn any lessons from their previous defeat at the Louth venue a few weeks back.

Outplayed and outfought, Stephen Kenny's side were simply hungrier on the night and got their just rewards.

The Lilywhites are the form team in the country at present but Sligo will still be bitterly disappointed at putting up such a feable resistance.

This game should have mattered more to the Bit O Red. Trailing Dundalk in the league by 17 points and out of the EA Sports Cup, this game was crucial to preserve something from a season that promised so much after last month's Setanta Cup final victory.

The fortunes of both sides couldn't have gone more differently since that evening in Tallaght though. While Dundalk have gone on a winning run that has taken them to the summit of the table, Sligo have lost their way somewhat.

The challenge now for Baraclough and his men is to follow Dundalk's lead by bouncing back.

A victory over Derry City next time out is crucial to go into the summer break on a positive note and while a title challenge at this stage looks highly unlikely, the club have to at least challenge for a place in Europe again next season.

To be fair to Rovers, their injury list at present would test any club and it told its own story that Baraclough could only name five substitutes on the bench after Alan Keane, Jeff Henderson and Seamus Conneely all failed pre-match fitness tests.

With resources stretched, it meant that Joseph Ndo had to start at right back with Aaron Greene up front on his own with Eric Odhiambo trying to join him when possible.

It was that pair who teamed up to create the first opening of the game on 13 minutes with Green slipping Odhiambo in on the left only for him to pull his shot across the face of goal.

A goal at that point wouldn't have flattered Sligo after a bright start but unfortunately that was about as good as it got for the visitors. That chance from Odhiambo proved to be their only one of the half and while there were others in the second half, none of them overly troubled Peter Cherrie.

The warning signs of what Dundalk had to offer were clear from the 14th minute when Darren Meenan slipped in David McMillan only for his low drive to be turned away by the outstretched leg of Gary Rogers.

The same pair then teamed up again six minutes later only for McMillan to blaze over.

Rogers had to be at his best again on 22 minutes to keep out a Dane Massey header from a Meenan corner before Daryl Horgan had a shot deflected over after an exchange with McMillan at the edge of the area.

Massey then went close with another header before the breakthrough finally arrived for the home side in the 31st minute.

Brian Gartland hit a superb 60 yard pass from right to left with the ball being cushioned down by Richie Towell into the path of the onrushing David McMillan who hit it first time to drill to the roof of the net.

Shortly before half-time Kurtis Byrne managed to create space for himself in the box to get a shot away but his effort was straight at Rogers.

Sligo did end the half strongly when Danny Ledwith went on a fine run up the left before playing the ball across the six yard box. Unfortunately for him there was no team-mate there to apply the finish and Massey managed to clear with ease.

Despite playing second fiddle for much of the first half, Sligo would have felt they were still very much in the game at the break. However, a difficult task became even harder within two minutes of the restart when Horgan swept home a pass from McMillan from the right of the area to double Dundalk's lead.

To their credit, Sligo responded well to that setback and created their best chance in the 50th minute when a Ndo free kick was flicked on by Danny North, forcing Cherrie to scramble the ball away at the expense of a corner.

Despite the visitors coming more into the game, Dundalk were still creating the better openings and Evan McMillan was required to make a fine block to deny Meenan five minutes later.

Any chance of a turnaround was all but quashed on 66 minutes when the home side went 3-0 up. A neat piece of skill by Meenan released Massey on the left and his pass picked out McMillan, who had a shot saved at the near post by Rogers. The danger was far from over though, with Gartland on hand to slam home the rebound to the roof of the net. The tempo of the game dropped significantly after that although Dundalk probably should have made it four 14 minutes from time when Chris Shields' pass from right to left released Massey, with his pull back teeing up Richie Towell for a shot that he pulled wide.

McMillan also went close to adding a fourth in the 92nd minute when he raced clear up the right only to be denied by a point blank stop from Rogers.

Sligo did have a good chance of a consolation goal a minute later when John Russell raced onto Sean Maguire's pass but with only Cherrie to beat the midfielder pulled his effort wide while off balance. The cup defence was over with barely a whimper. The season appears to be going that way too. Big changces are needed to turn things around but at present the players just look so deflated.

The only real plus from the game was that Raffaele Cretaro made his return from injury off the bench later on.

That and the fact that Sligo won't have to travel back to Oriel Park again this season were the only positives anyone could take from the game on the long journey home.

DUNDALK: Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan, Shields, Towell (Griffin 87), Horgan (Higgins 82); Byrne (Mountney 65); McMillan. Subs not used: Rossiter, Kelly, O'Connor, Sava.

SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers; Ndo (Maguire 82), McMillan, Spillane, Gaynor; North, Russell, Odhiambo (Cretaro 58), O'Conor, Ledwith; Greene. Subs not used: Donelon, Loftus, Brush.

Referee: Paul Tuite (Dublin).

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