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Clinical Twigg gets Rovers out of jail

A new era in the dugout, but a familiar story on the scoresheet. This was Gary Twigg's night.

The 27-year-old, who arrived at Shamrock Rovers with former boss Michael O'Neill and was a key part of the Northern Ireland manager's success, got Stephen Kenny's tenure off to a winning start.

His predatory instincts were the decisive factor on a chilly night where the new-season cobwebs were apparent. Twigg came to the fore after Drogheda grabbed a surprise first-half lead, with vital contributions either side of half-time.

"That's the difference a goalscorer can make," said Kenny, afterwards. "We could have gone in 1-0 down at the break, but instead, within five minutes of the second half, we're 2-1 up. Gary can get sharper again, his pre-season has been interrupted and that was his first 90 minutes, so we're happy.

"It's the first game and we're just glad to get out of here with a win. I don't think many teams will win here this season."

Certainly, Drogheda made it hard for the champions. The disparity in riches between the protagonists was emphasised in the minutes before kick-off, as 10 Rovers players who didn't make the starting XI played keep ball while waiting for the teams to come out.

Among them were several recognisable faces, including winter capture Graham Gartland, a former league winner with Drogheda, who has just returned to Ireland from a stint in Scotland.

He will have noted that the antiquated facilities at Hunky Dorys Park have barely changed since the league title win back in 2007.

It's a credit to the people who saved the Boynesiders that they are still even competing at this level, but the price of austerity is coming into a game like this with an approach that seeks to defy the odds. Mick Cooke set up his team in a 4-1-4-1 shape and allowed the champions to monopolise possession.

The plan revolved around defensive concentration, with a high line looking to catch out the Rovers front pair of Twigg and Gary O'Neill.

On a difficult, narrow pitch, Kenny was happy with how his team started, yet they struggled to create any clear-cut opportunities. O'Neill did force Italian 'keeper Gabriel Sava into a smart stop, but there was some frustration creeping in when the visitors were sucker-punched in the 34th minute.

A foul by Stephen Rice on Brian Gannon gave the Louthmen a rare reason to venture forward. Right-winger Dean Marshall stepped up to curl in a dangerous delivery that evaded everyone and bounced past Hoops 'keeper Oscar Jansson, with the loan capture from Tottenham Hotspur left red-faced.

He was anticipating that Drogheda centre-half Alan McNally would nod the ball in a different direction.

The setback posed an early test of Rovers' character and they responded, with Rice shrugging off the attentions of two claret and blue shirts and then benefiting from a deflection on his pass into the direction of Twigg, who rounded Sava and maintained his composure to convert.

The Scot has scored in all seven of his league visits to this venue and his love for the ground increased after the resumption. There was nothing romantic about this goal, though, with a contested Billy Dennehy free prompting an ugly goalmouth scramble that wound up with Rovers skipper Ken Oman flicking across the goal for Twigg to dispatch from close range.

absence

With a deficit to chase, Drogheda had to try and open up, and Cooke introduced Tiernan Mulvenna to give lone ranger Peter Hynes some support. There was an absence of conviction as they went about it, however, with a few panicked touches in promising situations.

That said Rovers weren't exactly exuding calm either and loose defending allowed home sub Cathal Brady the space to swivel in the box, but he failed to worry Jansson. "We weren't impressive in the second half," admitted Kenny. "It was scrappy out there."

Still, the result is all that matters as they set off on a three-in-a-row mission.

Drogheda United -- Sava; Quigley, Prendergast, McNally, Grimes; Marshall (Brady 83), O'Brien, Gannon, Flynn (Mulvenna 71), Hand (Kerr 71); Hynes.

Shamrock Rovers -- Jansson; Gilbert, Sives, Oman, Powell; Brennan (Turner 81), Rice, Finn, Dennehy; Twigg, O'Neill (Greene 77).

Ref -- A Buttimer (Cork).

Irish Independent