Twigg's last-gasp strike breaks Drogheda hearts
DROGHEDA UNITED 0, SHAMROCK ROVERS 1
GARY Twigg struck in the fifth minute of injury-time to cruelly deny Drogheda United a point and rescue a Shamrock Rovers side who rode their luck for most of last night's clash.
Referee Neil Doyle somehow found four minutes of stoppage-time when the board went up and that had elapsed and the clock was at 94 minutes, 10 seconds when Billy Dennehy's flick put the prolific Scotsman through on goal and he did what he does best, lobbing Steven Trimble from just inside the box.
It was so, so harsh on a Drogheda team who have endured a difficult season and produced their best display of the campaign against the champions. They were out on their feet towards the end and collapsed to the ground when the goal went in.
It wasn't anywhere near vintage, but Michael O'Neill's men survived and kept the pressure on leaders Sligo Rovers.
They go to Tallinn for their Champions League qualifier second leg on the back of a win, but it could have been so different after a series of scares.
It had started so brightly. Rovers opened as if they were going to steamroll their hosts and Trimble couldn't hold Dean Kelly's stinging effort from the edge of the box.
Gary O'Neill almost got on the end of Kelly's low cross as the home defence creaked under pressure.
But the Hoops never kicked on from their purposeful start and O'Neill, watching from the stands due to suspension, would have been horrified with what he saw after rotating his squad.
Goalkeeper Ryan Thompson was given his chance ahead of the departing Alan Mannus, but he looked ill-prepared for the task at hand as he spilled former Hoop Mark O'Brien's cross at the feet of Gavin Brennan, whose effort was scrambled off the line by Craig Sives.
Alerted to the Jamaican 'keeper's foibles, United started peppering him with shots.
The Rovers defenders seemed to be catching their 'keeper's jitters and a penalty looked a certainty when Pat Flynn bundled Brennan over in the box, only for the well-placed Doyle to ignore the claims.
Fuelled by that injustice and the realisation that the champions are only human, Drogheda pushed on and Dan Corcoran almost robbed Thompson in the box as the 'keeper dithered.
Kelly tried to inspire Rovers but fired over, before Thompson was again called into action at the other end as he denied O'Brien from close range.
Corcoran fired straight at the 'keeper and the impressive Brennan had a dangerous effort fly over.
Coach Andy Myler had the Rovers players out warming up for the last five minutes at half-time, while Ronan Finn replaced Stephen O'Donnell in an attempt to get things going creatively, but it was Drogheda who started the better and applied the pressure again.
Peter McMahon sent a low drive that just skipped past the post, before Rovers sub Billy Dennehy, still on the bench, became involved in an altercation with fourth official Damien Hancock and was lucky to escape unpunished after being dragged away.
Rovers clearly felt the safest place for him was on the pitch and the Kerryman was introduced alongside Twigg in order to provide some spark.
Rovers almost got their breakthrough just after the hour mark as Stephen Rice's long throw broke to Gary McCabe but while his goal-bound effort had Trimble beaten, Brian Gannon made a goal-saving block.
The tide had turned and Trimble pulled off a stunning reaction save to deny Twigg from close range as United creaked. Dan Murray headed over from the corner, before Dennehy fired high and Twigg headed wide as it looked like Drogheda would hold on.
But they didn't count on Twigg.
DROGHEDA UNITED -- Trimble; Quigley, McNally, Gannon, Hand; O'Brien, Lynch, McMahon (Thompson 86), Brennan; Corcoran, Mulvenna (White 93).
SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Thompson; Flynn, Sives, Murray, Stevens; Kelly, Rice, O'Donnell (Finn h-t), McCormack (Dennehy 57), McCabe; O'Neill (Twigg 57).
REF -- N Doyle (Dublin).