Henderson hits dramatic winner
Rovers maintain 100% record
There was no shortage of historical significance as Sligo Rovers maintained their 100% record in the Airtricity League with this rather fortunate victory over newly-promoted Limerick at the Showgrounds last Saturday.
It's the first time since 1936 that Rovers have won their first four League matches and Anthony Elding, who headed a stunning equaliser deep into injury time at the end of the first half, became the first player in the club's history to score in the opening four League games in a season.
More importantly the result stretched the defending champions' lead at the top of the table and put them into a commanding position as they head into an Easter double-header away to Bohs and UCD. An icy wind and a difficult playing surface conspired to thwart the best efforts of the two teams. In the end, Rovers did just about enough to get over the line, although they were lucky to survive a late penalty appeal when Limerick winger, Danny Galbraith, appeared to be upended by Kieran Djilali.
Referee, Rob Rogers, waved away Limerick's protests and booked Galbraith for diving. And as the controversy continued after the final whistle, the referee gave Limerick 'keeper, Barry Ryan, a red card for persistent protesting.
It was easy to understand Limerick's frustration as their overall work rate probably entitled them to a share of the spoils but, at the same time, there was much to admire about the way Rovers fought back from conceding a 33rd minute goal. They showed admirable character and resilience, sticking to their principles even when little seemed to be going right for them.
The energy-sapping conditions and unrelenting endeavour by Limerick threatened to suffocate Rovers who found it extremely difficult to get their passing game together but they refused to settle for second best and were rewarded when centre-back Jeff Henderson, making his first start of the season in place of the injured Gavin Peers, bundled in the winner six minutes from time. With a near gale force wind at their backs, Rovers set out their stall early on, Elding firing wide from the edge of the area in the first minute.
Limerick showed plenty of attacking intent as well and Gary Rogers had to be alert to keep out a header from Brian O'Callaghan in the 7th minute.
Almost immediately, Rovers engineered a swift counter attack with Raffaele Cretaro cutting in from the right before forcing Ryan to a diving save. Then, slightly against the run of play, Limerick struck for the lead goal in the 33rd minute.
Darragh Rainsford did well to dig out a cross from the left flank and Craig Curran turned sharply to dispatch a crisp shot low to the net from the edge of the area.
With Elding probing intelligently, Rovers looked dangerous every time they came forward and the big centre forward almost got in for an equaliser in the 37th minute, getting a good touch on Lee Lynch's incisive pass only to see Ryan react smartly to execute a fine save.
At the other end, Limerick came within inches of snatching a second goal. A misplaced throw-in by Aaron Greene left Rainsford with a clear run at goal and Rogers was obliged to produce a brilliant save, diving full-length to his left to parry the effort. Even then, the danger wasn't over and the vigilant Evan McMillan had to come to his side's rescue, preventing Curran from putting home the rebound.
Rovers made the most of the reprieve, carving out a brilliant equaliser two minutes into stoppage time at the end of the half. A slick passing move brought play from left to right and Cretaro delivered a pinpoint cross to the near post where Elding, having timed his run to perfection, rose majestically to head powerfully to the net.
Rovers enjoyed an overwhelming share of possession in the second half but found it difficult to penetrate a well-organised Limerick defence. The unsparing Alan Keane made a number of penetrating runs down the right flank and the inventive Lynch became increasingly influential.
But there was still little sign of a breakthrough. Then, from an unlikely source, Rovers fashioned the winner in the 84th minute. Ryan Connolly cross from the left, Elding helped the ball across a crowded goalmouth and Henderson somehow managed to squeeze it home with an outstretched left foot. Limerick, who seemed content to opt for a mission of containment in the second half, suddenly began to push forward again and were unlucky not to get a penalty in injury time. Rovers hung on to create another notable statistic on their impressive roll of honour.