Max Mata came off the bench to score twice in two minutes as Sligo Rovers came from behind to beat Bohemian at The Showgrounds on Sunday evening.
John Russell’s side were trailing 1-0 after John O’Sullivan netted on 54 minutes, but that lead lasted 11 minutes as Mata did the damage for the Dubliners.
Both teams were level on points coming into this game, with Shelbourne one point behind in seventh and St Patrick’s Athletic four points ahead in fourth.
Rovers had only played one league game in the last month with attention firmly on their European adventures, although they lost their last two domestic games; a 1-0 defeat to Wexford in the first round of the FAI Cup, and a 2-0 defeat to UCD in the league - both of those games at home.
And although they suffered a heavy defeat to Norwegian side Viking on Thursday in the Europa Conference League third qualifying round, Rovers were keen to avoid the dreaded ‘European hangover’.
Having arrived home Thursday night directly after the game, preparation for Sunday’s game may have been short, but the importance of this game wasn’t lost on Russell and his players in the context of securing European football for next season.
With Garry Buckley and Adam McDonnell added to the list of casualties after they picked up injuries in Norway, Russell’s squad was depleted with Colm Horgan, Lewis Banks and Seamas Keogh all missing.
Issues with Fabrice Hartmann’s registration also means he was unavailable on Sunday.
Russell made three changes to the side that played on Thursday, with Greg Bolger, Frank Liivak and Nando Pijnaker coming into the team in place of Buckley, McDonnell and Banks.
Karl O’Sullivan started the game at right-back, such is the defensive crisis facing Russell at present.
Keith Long has added nine new players over the course of the summer transfer window, with five of those new signings named in the starting 11 on Sunday.
It was a tame opening to this affair, with neither side really taking too many risks in an attempt to open the scoring.
Aidan Keena’s shot on 21 minutes failed to trouble Ryan in the Bohs goals.
The visitors were looking brightest, with Declan McDaid curling his free-kick just wide of the post after Shane Blaney tripped James Clarke on the edge of the box.
Three corners in quick succession came to nothing for the visitors, who were certainly enjoying more opportunities.
Russell will probably have been somewhat relieved to have got to half-time scoreless.
Rovers needed a big response after half-time, particularly as the chase for European spots is the only thing keeping Rovers’ season alive from here on in.
The Rovers boss brought on reinforcements at the start of the second half in the shape of Robbie Burton and Max Mata, with Greg Bolger and David Cawley making way.
The hosts started the second half well, to their credit.
But again Keith Long’s side were dangerous on the attack, and proved how dangerous they can be on 54 minutes when new signing John O’Sullivan gave them the lead.
Good build up play from James Clarke saw former Rovers man Junior Ogedi Uzokwe gain possession inside the box.
Junior cleverly laid it off for O’Sullivan who fired past McNicholas, giving the large travelling support something to cheer about.
Again, the Bit O’Red responded well, with the substitutions making a difference.
Eleven minutes after going behind, Rovers were back in it.
A lovely ball from Aidan Keena fell nicely for Mata who, even with a tricky angle, managed to keep the shot on target and ensure it had the required power to beat Ryan in the Bohs goals.
And two minutes later, the New Zealander was on the scoresheet again as Rovers went ahead.
A fantastic cross from Will Fitzgerald was half cleared by Ciaran Kelly.
Unfortunately for the Bohs defender, he only cleared it as far as Mata who chested it to bring it down before shooting past Ryan to put Rovers ahead.
Keena tried his luck from distance on 72 minutes,
Rovers had a lot of defending to do in the closing stages, but they were rarely threatened in those final few minutes.
Ethon Varian dragged his shot wide on 80 minutes, while Keith Long brought former Celtic man Jonathan Afolabi on to try and get something from this game.
In the end, Rovers held out to secure a vital three points as they try to move up towards the top four as their main aim is to secure European football for next season.
The Bit O’Red take on Viking at home this Thursday in the second leg of their Europa Conference League third qualifying round tie, where they trail 5-1.
The game is sold out, and Russell is hopeful that his players can put on a show to reward those who have supported them in recent weeks.
Next Sunday, Rovers travel to Dublin to take on St Patrick’s Athletic in what is another huge game in the battle for European spots.
Sligo Rovers: Luke McNicholas; Karl O’Sullivan, Shane Blaney, Nando Pijnaker, Paddy Kirk; Niall Morahan, David Cawley (Max Mata HT), Greg Bolger (Robbie Burton HT); Frank Liivak, Will Fitzgerald; Aidan Keena.
Bohemians: Tadhg Ryan; Jordan Doherty, Josh Kerr, Ciaran Kelly, Ryan Burke (Tyreke Wilson 92); James Clarke (Johnny Afolabi 80), John O’Sullivan, Ali Coote (Conor Levingston 74); Liam Burt (Kris Twardek 74), Declan McDaid; Junior (Ethon Varian 74).
Referee: Ray Matthews.