Puri strike ensures Waterford stay on track to make European return
Waterford 1 Sligo Rovers 0
Waterford last night celebrated the 50th anniversary of their European Cup meeting with Manchester United as the current batch took another step towards ending their 33-year absence from the European stage.
A first-half winner by Sander Puri against an insipid Sligo Rovers moved the Blues into third spot on goal difference, ahead of Shamrock Rovers, who have their game in hand against Derry City this evening.
Third spot would seal a Europa League spot but the team finishing fourth will make the cut, too, provided Dundalk or Cork City lift the FAI Cup.
Any fears that Waterford would suffer the same fate that Derry did in 2012 by being barred by UEFA for past indiscretions have eased.
The European governing body have a rule which prevents clubs less than two years' in existence from taking their qualification places.
It is designed to avoid clubs with bad debts restarting under a new name, leaving a trail of debts in their wake.
However, the fact that Waterford owner Lee Power paid legacy bills owing to local creditors upon taking charge early last year should see them avoiding any complications.
Sligo made the long trip to the south-east having won their last two away league games, including victory at champions Cork City, but they found the going tough from the outset.
Noel Hunt, looking to score for the third home game on the trot, should have at least hit the target on six minutes when connecting with Paul Keegan's in-swinging free-kick.
Sligo were being easily stretched at the back and Waterford took full advantage on 17 minutes.
Noe Baba's long ball down the right flank released Hunt and his low cross was turned in by a first-time Puri shot from eight yards.
Kevin Feely wasted a good chance to add another shortly after by angling his shot wide of the near post before Paul Keegan squandered an even better opening.
When Sligo only half-cleared a corner by Stanley Aborah, Feely laid the ball off for Keegan to have a clear sight on goal but he couldn't beat Ed McGinty in the visitors' goal.
McGinty had replaced the dropped Mitchell Beeney and once again stood tall in repelling a shot by Puri after Cory Galvin's run on the counter-attack ended with him picking out the Estonian in space.
Ger Lyttle's side were struggling for ideas, with Mikey Drennan an isolated figure up front.
Raffaele Cretaro, whose equaliser nicked a point in the last meeting between the sides at the RSC in April, dragged a shot wide as the break approached while Pat McClean was unable to get a proper connection to Ryan Donelon's corner.
That was the height of Sligo's goalmouth action on a night the scale of their rebuilding job for next season was further underlined.
In fact, they were fortunate not to lose by more as Aborah's free-kick with six minutes remaining rebounded off the inside of the post.
WATERFORD - N Corbet; N Baba, K Browne, G Comerford, D Barnett; P Keegan; R Feely, S Aborah, S Puri, C Galvin (B Héry 60); N Hunt (I Akinade 85).
SLIGO ROVERS - E McGinty; K McFadden, J Mahon, P McClean; K Twardek (A Wixted 72), J Keaney, R McCabe, LJ Lynch, R Donelon (S Sharkey 54); M Drennan, R Cretaro (C McAleer 64).
Referee - B Connolly (Dublin).