Gannon fires Drogheda into Euro dreamland
BRIAN GANNON'S sensational 89th-minute strike for 10-man Drogheda United clinched a place in next season's Europa League for the Boynesiders at a rocking Hunky Dorys Park.
The battle to secure third place in the league seemed to be going down to the final week of the season when Liam Buchanan cancelled out Alan McNally's first-half strike on 46 minutes and Drogheda's Declan O'Brien was sent off for a second booking after protesting that the goal should have been ruled out.
But Mick Cooke's heroes hung on before striking in dramatic fashion right at the death.
Drogheda players formed a guard of honour before kick-off to mark Sligo's title-winning exploits and then settled down to the task of trying to secure that European spot.
Drogheda started brighter and on 14 minutes Gannon should have put them ahead when a Philip Hand shot was deflected into his path, but he blazed over the bar from eight yards.
The Boynesiders wasted a number of free-kicks in dangerous areas and Sligo nearly made them pay when Lee Lynch intercepted a poor pass and released Liam Buchanan, whose shot failed to trouble Gabriel Sava.
When Ryan Connolly's 30-yard effort was tipped over the bar by Sava, Sligo appeared to be gaining the upper hand, but it was Drogheda who struck decisively on 31 minutes. From Eric Foley's corner, McNally rose highest to plant a header low past Richard Brush.
Peter Hynes had a shot deflected wide, while other efforts from Foley (twice) and Hand bounced just wide as the Drogs looked to press home their advantage before the break.
But, in a matter of seconds, right at the start of the second half, the game was turned on its head. Buchanan broke through and shot against the Drogheda post and when Raffaele Cretaro drilled the ball back towards goal, Buchanan tapped home from almost on the goal-line.
There was no flag from the assistant referee, despite a hint of offside, and O'Brien's protest earned him a second booking of the game, leaving the Drogs down to 10 men.
After that Sligo bossed the game, but struggled to prise open a dogged defence. Alan Byrne threw himself in the way of a goal-bound Buchanan effort and Sava performed heroics to block a Connolly shot with his feet.
A succession of substitutions took some of the sting out of the Sligo attack, but they rallied again as the Boynesiders began to tire and Sava produced a brilliant save to tip over a John Dillon piledriver on 81 minutes.
But out of nothing the 10 men snatched a priceless goal in the 89th minute when Gannon popped up with a superb curling shot that gave Brush no chance.
DROGHEDA UNITED --Sava; Quigley, McNally, Byrne, Hand; S Brennan , Gannon, Foley ( 73), R Brennan; Hynes (Mulvenna 66), O'Brien.
SLIGO ROVERS -- Brush; Henderson (Owen 78), Peers, McGuinness, Gaynor; Ndo, Lynch, Cawley (Dillon 66), Buchanan ( Millen 78); Cretaro, Connolly.
Ref -- T Connolly (Dublin).