Monday 19 February 2018

Quigley has last word in dramatic Sligo triumph


SEAN RYAN at The Showgrounds

SLIGO ROVERS' 35-year wait for their third League of Ireland title ended at 5.41 yesterday afternoon when referee Damien Hancock blew the final whistle on their thrilling 3-2 win over leading challengers St Patrick's Athletic at a heaving, throbbing Showgrounds packed to its extended 5,621 capacity.

Hancock proved the central figure when he awarded Sligo a controversial penalty in the 89th minute, which former Pat's favourite Mark Quigley dispatched to earn the three points and the 2012 league title.

Manager Ian Baraclough, who delivered the title after two near-misses by his predecessor Paul Cook, was at pains to deflect the credit away from himself.

"It's not about one person," he said. "One person heads it up and that's me, but to win you need good staff, good players, good backing from the chairman and good fans, and I've not wanted for anything."

Noted for his calm demeanour ever since Sligo took over top spot on April 6, Baraclough said: "If I'm calm and look as though I'm in control, that transmits to the players and they're calm on the pitch."

He also admitted that he had made mistakes -- and learnt from them. "I made a wrong call against UCD when we lost 1-0. I played two in midfield against their three and I took that on board." In their next meeting, Sligo won 3-0.

Local players have been key men in Sligo's previous title wins -- Paddy Monaghan (1937), Paul McGee and Tony Fagan (1977) -- and this time the mantle seemed to fall on Tubbercurry's pride and joy, Raf Cretaro who, in the space of two minutes, broke the hearts of the travelling Pat's support.

His first goal, which was due reward for a period of sustained Sligo pressure, came after 21 minutes. Ross Gaynor's pass gave winger Pascal Millien space to run at the defence and, as he cut in from the left, he spotted Cretaro unmarked. Cretaro pounced on the pass, raced into the penalty area and slid the ball under the advancing Barry Murphy as the Showgrounds erupted as much with relief as anything.

Two minutes later, Ross Gaynor's corner from the right was flicked on by Gavin Peers to the far post where an unmarked Cretaro had the simplest of tasks in heading to the net. His part in the goal was redemption for Peers who, just prior to the first goal, had missed Sligo's best chance when heading over a good Lee Lynch cross from less than 10 yards.

Both teams adopted a 4-3-3 passing game but Sligo, in the lively Quigley and Haitian Millien, had the potent game-breakers, which Pat's lacked. Sligo selected Jeff Henderson at right-back for only his second League game, while Pat's had Greg Bolger replacing the injured Jake Kelly.

Pat's didn't really threaten Sligo goalkeeper Gary Rogers in the first 45 minutes. A Christy Fagan free, which whistled just past the post, and a Jake Carroll header from a Ger O'Brien cross, which Rogers handled comfortably, were their best efforts.

Pat's thought they had an early chance in the second half when Sean O'Connor went down under Peers' challenge in the penalty area, but referee Hancock wasn't impressed and booked O'Connor for simulation instead.

Sligo began to defend deeply as Pat's began the half with striker Vinny Faherty replacing Greg Bolger, who had been booked in the first half for a tackle on Danny Ventre. The home side paid the price for going defensive after 52 minutes when Christy Fagan got clear and shot past Rogers to bring Pat's back into the game.

Five minutes later, Sligo had a let-off when an O'Connor free from the right clipped the crossbar, and two minutes later O'Connor passed another free short to Chris Forrester, who found the net with a stunning shot.

Sligo were now in a battle to regain their early dominance but, despite their best efforts, it seemed a task beyond them. The best chance of the remaining minutes fell to Pat's sub Anto Flood, whose shot from the left went behind off the crossbar.

Then came the dramatic intervention of referee Hancock. After being alerted by linesman Damien McGraith, he deemed that Conor Kenna handled the ball when Peers connected with sub John Dillon's corner.

The game ended on a sour note when Hancock dished out red cards to Sligo captain Ventre and Pat's winger O'Connor after a bout of pushing. Fortunately, in O'Connor's case it was for a second yellow, so he won't miss St Pat's FAI Cup final date with Derry City on November 4.

Sligo Rovers: Rogers; Henderson (Cawley 53), McGuinness, Peers, Gaynor; Lynch, Ventre, Ndo (Buchanan 85); Cretaro, Quigley, Millien (Dillon 76).

St Patrick's Athletic: Murphy; O'Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Chambers (Russell 70), Carroll, Bolger (Faherty, ht); Forrester (Flood 70), Fagan, O'Connor.

Referee: D Hancock

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