Dillon breathes life into Sligo's title bid
Shamrock Rovers 1, Sligo Rovers 2
AFTER a week when a decision from UEFA went in their favour, Shamrock Rovers fans experienced a different range of emotions on a night which threw the title race wide open.
The nine-man Hoops conceded an injury-time goal to a Sligo side who had a greater need for a victory and, on the overall balance of play, deserved the win which brings them to within three points of new leaders, Derry City.
Nevertheless, there was fury around Tallaght at the second-half dismissal of Pat Sullivan which gave Sligo a significant advantage, even if they had to fall behind before launching a comeback that concluded with a triumphant John Dillon header.
With a hectic schedule of games coming over the horizon, Michael O'Neill's charges face a serious fight to retain their crown.
This was a thrilling game, one of the best of the season. Paul Cook's men pressed high up the pitch from the outset, thus setting the tone for an entertaining evening.
Both parties were guilty of profligacy in the opening half, yet it was Sligo who had greater reason to feel aggrieved about the game being scoreless at the break.
Nevertheless, it was the Hoops who threatened first, with Rohan Ricketts producing a moment on his home debut which hinted at the ability that made him a Premier League player in his teens.
The ex-Spurs man released Gary Twigg with a delicate chip that Phil Mickelson would have been proud of. Rovers' top marksman collected but lost his balance and stabbed wide.
O'Neill's other Europa League inspired acquisition, Scottish left-full Jim Paterson, was introduced to Joseph Ndo. Unfortunately for him, the mercurial playmaker was in the mood, drifting in from the right flank to cause a variety of problems.
In a period when Sligo dominated, an attempted cross from the ex-Cameroon international rebounded off the post with Ryan Thompson beaten.
Both teams had started with hybrid 4-2-3-1 formations, and the hosts switched in a bid to alter the flow with Karl Sheppard pushed up to support Twigg. Shortly after, Chris Turner, who should have converted a header from a corner, was duly levelled by Danny Ventre with the natives furious that ref Damien Hancock reached for yellow instead of red.
Ex-Hoops man Eoin Doyle should have scored twice, firing wildly off target with just Thompson to beat, and then finding Dan Murray in place to make a goal-line clearance when he did elude the Jamaican.
It was better for the Hoops from the resumption, with visiting stopper Brendan Clarke pulling a save from the top drawer to divert a Turner header to safety.
However, Sligo were given a boost on the hour mark. Belgrade goal hero Sullivan was awarded a second yellow for being deemed to have thrown the ball away in the aftermath of conceding a corner. As O'Neill considered his options, his team found the ideal response. Ricketts embarked on a weaving run that culminated with a teasing delivery; Twigg rose highest to break the deadlock.
From there, it was a case of holding on. Sligo continued to find gaps. On two seperate occasions, Matthew Blinkhorn was released into space only for Thompson to race from his line and close the door. Richie Ryan picked up the rebound from the first and fizzed a goalward effort that stand-in right-back Stephen Rice swept away.
Ricketts was replaced by Billy Dennehy who almost doubled the advantage from a swift counter. And it was a miss that the table-toppers would regret 10 minutes from time when Russell drifted into the box and smashed beyond Thompson.
O'Neill brought on Pat Flynn for Rice, but he made the wrong kind of impression with a shocking tackle on Iarflaith Davoren; this time, there were no protests when Hancock again reached for the red card.
It was a costly moment of indiscipline that was punished at the death. Ndo wandered into space and chipped to the far post where half-time arrival Dillon timed his run to convert a header of seismic importance.
Shamrock Rovers -- Thompson, Sullivan, Murray, Sives, Paterson; Rice, Turner; Sheppard (Flynn 84), Finn, Ricketts (Dennehy 67); Twigg (Kilduff 65).
Sligo Rovers -- Clarke, Cretaro (Keane 65), Peers, McGuinness, Davoren; Ventre (Dillon 45), Ryan; Ndo, Russell, Greene (Blinkhorn 54); Doyle.
Ref -- Damien Hancock (Dublin).