Drogheda relegated as Rovers run riot in Tallaght
Shamrock Rovers 5 Drogheda 3
Just two years after they rented this venue for a Europa League tie with Malmo, Drogheda United were condemned to the obscurity of the First Division.
The chopping and changing of managers in the intervening period has removed any trace of a hard luck story. They flirted with an unlikely triumph for 45 minutes in Tallaght before the gulf in class between the respective ends of the table shone through.
Danny North’s second-half hat-trick was a fair reflection of the run of play as Rovers shook themselves into life to secure a result that was only good enough for third place.
Drogheda finish bottom and it will be last week’s tame reverse on home turf against Longford that will take prominence over this defeat in the post-mortem.
But, for the 2007 champions, the inquest must go deeper than that. Limerick’s great escape has made them pay the penalty for errors that go back beyond this campaign.
This was a miserable end to a strange week at Drogheda, with the announcement of Pete Mahon’s return as first-team manager after the expiration of the 60-day period that caretaker Mark Kinsella was allowed to be in charge for because he lacks the requisite qualifications.
But, as expected, it was Kinsella who paraded the touchline throughout this match, kicking every ball and looking very much like the man in charge. His plan started well.
Keith Treacy was left out, with a hungry midfield that was covered by Sean Thornton snapping at the heels of the Hoops and forcing mistakes in the driving rain.
They showed admirable spirit to bounce back from a chaotic 60-second spell where hope was quickly replaced by despair.
After pressure forced a 17th-minute corner, slack Rovers marking allowed Drogheda to go ahead with Alan Byrne’s header pushed clear by Barry Murphy to long-serving Mick Daly who had time and space to apply the final touch.
The lead was ridiculously short-lived as Rovers tipped off and didn’t have to work too hard to fashion an opening for a Gary McCabe cross which was met by an attempted Byrne clearance that rebounded off centre-half partner Robert O’Reilly and into the net past the stranded Micheal Schlingermann.
It could have drained the momentum, yet Drogheda regrouped, with Thornton relishing his battle with Damien Duff – the Ireland centurion was deployed in a ‘No 10’ role behind lone striker North.
Rovers enjoyed long spells with the ball, with Stephen McPhail prominent in what could prove to be his last game for them, but Drogheda were more tuned in for key moments and that was evident in the strike that put them back ahead.
When they earned a free in Hoops territory, the alert Sean Brennan and Tiernan Mulvenna worked a quick free which culminated with the latter curling the ball past Murphy for a 2-1 half-time lead.
Pat Fenlon was unhappy and his players emerged from the interval with renewed purpose to quickly restore parity. The passage started from a superb 30-yard effort from McCabe that was acrobatically tipped wide by Schlingermann.
At the second attempt, a Duff corner yielded a return when he engineered a one-two and clipped the ball to the far post where Byrne was adjudged to have wrestled Conor Kenna to the ground. North stepped up to calmly convert.
In calmer conditions, the Dubliners were sharper in possession and easily found space as Drogheda pressed but, eventually, the energy was drained from their limbs. Rovers were on another level to their part-time opponents.
There was an inevitability about the outcome as a prolonged series of passes led to a Brandon Miele shot that Schlingermann could only parry into the path of the grateful North, who reacted quicker than his pursuers to do the rest.
Drogheda were spent, with a shot from the persistent Thornton their only threat of an equaliser before sub Kieran Marty Waters breached their defence to put the result beyond all doubt.
A consolation strike from Michael Duffy narrowed the deficit, but there was a fitting end to a story of Drogheda disappointment as referee Dave McKeon awarded another penalty for a foul on North which led to the Englishman completing his hat-trick and Thornton receiving a red card for dissent. Calmer heads will be required in a long winter.
Shamrock Rovers – Murphy, Madden, Kenna, O’Connor, Byrne; Cregg (Drennan 65), McPhail (R Brennan 83); McCabe, Duff (Waters 80), Miele; North
Drogheda United – Schlingermann, Daly, Byrne, O’Reilly, Marks; Thornton; Whelan (Duffy 70), Hughes, Brennan (Donnelly 78), Mulvenna (Treacy 61); Pender
Ref – D McKeon (Dublin)