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Cooke: Hope is not lost

THERE WAS ONLY one winner from last night's main action in the League of Ireland title race as a dull 0-0 draw between St Patrick's Athletic and Drogheda United has turned both teams from title hopefuls into no-hopers and handed a clear advantage to Sligo Rovers.

Now five points clear at the top of the table with a game in hand, Sligo edged closer to their first league title in 35 years without kicking a ball last night as the second and third-placed teams were unable to get the win they needed, with Drogheda keeper Gabriel Sava in fine form to deny Pat's the goal they sought to at least add some pressure on Sligo in the title run-in.

"The only person who was happy last night was the Sligo manager Ian Baraclough," Drogheda boss Mick Cooke admitted after his side managed to soak up some pressure from Pat's to hold on for a draw which did little for his side or St Pat's.

"Both managers will see it as two points dropped. In the last 20 minutes self preservation took over for us and we retreated, gave St Pat's too much ground and Gabriel Sava did his job for us again.

"Pat's are very good on the ball and they ran us around a bit, maybe one or two of our lads celebrated a bit too much last weekend after winning the League Cup.


"Hope is not lost. Sligo have five hard games left and we won't give up until it's mathematically certain that we can't win it. The focus is still there for us, it is two points dropped in terms of the league but hopefully it's a point nearer to Europe for us," added the Drogheda boss.

"One point is better than nothing and who knows what's going to happen to Sligo against Derry tomorrow. They are in Cork next weekend and then they have top-four (opposition) in their last three games so there is pressure on everyone and that showed last night."

With so much at stake -- defeat here would have ended the title hopes of the losers -- this was always bound to be a tense affair, but it was just a pity for the 1,350 attendance, and those watching on live TV, that it was all so dull.

Pat's marginally had the better of the first half, but all they could manage were half-chances. Jake Kelly headed over in the 16th minute while Chris Fagan shot wide five minutes before the break after some good work by wide man Kelly, and just before half time it needed a clever challenge from Derek Prendergast, one of the unsung heroes for Drogheda this season, to cut out Fagan.

Drogheda, aware that even a top-two finish could be a struggle if they failed to win here, tried to get into the game but bar a couple of efforts from full back Philip Hand they were unable to threaten Barry Murphy's goal.

Pat's, with Christopher Forrester on as a second-half sub, upped their game and went close to scoring on 68 minutes when Greg Bolger picked up on Forrester's through ball and lashed a shot at United keeper Gabriel Sava which Sava saved, and Prendergast was on hand to clear the rebound.


It was Sava who kept Drogheda in the game late on, saving from sub Vinny Faherty and then Forrester, but Pat's were unable to beat the Romanian keeper and had to settle for the draw.

So now the advantage turns to Sligo, who can establish an eight-point lead with a win at home to Derry City tonight.

"We tried to win the game and controlled the second half, we're disappointed not to win but we have to see it as a point gained," said Pat's manager Liam Buckley. "We don't know what's around the corner for Sligo. If they win all their remaining games they'll be worthy champions but if they don't we have to keep believing that we have a chance."