Shamrock Rovers 1 Drogheda United 1
Shamrock Rovers dropped two points in the title race as Evan Weir’s late equaliser earned a point for ten-man Drogheda United.
Substitute Aidomo Emakhu’s late header looked to be the winner at Tallaght Stadium, before Weir’s driving volley on 87 minutes saw the points shared in a tightly-contested game.
After Dundalk’s win on Friday night, the pressure was on Stephen Bradley’s side to keep the distance on the chasing pack, as they returned to league action for the first time in three weeks.
Emakhu missed a glorious chance to win it on 94 minutes but dragged his effort wide. There will also be concerns about Roberto Lopes’ fitness ahead of their Champions League tie on Tuesday, as the centre-back left the pitch injured soon after the restart. Rovers now sit seven points clear of Dundalk in second.
After defeating the champions in May, Drogheda produced a determined display and nearly broke the deadlock on 50 minutes, as Keith Cowan and Adam Foley saw their efforts cleared off the line. Weir received a second booking after scoring for a foul on Andy Lyons, but the Louth side held on for a point, 14 points clear of ninth.
It was the visitors who started brighter, as Darragh Markey broke free on five minutes and sliced his shot wide. The Louth side applied some early pressure as Poynton and Dayle Rooney threatened, but the champions soon settled.
Richie Towell sent his shot just over, before Colin McCabe denied Burke on 35 minutes with a strong hand. Dylan Watts got himself into a great position late in the half but blazed the ball over following neat link-up play by Burke and Lyons.
Rory Gaffney was introduced at the restart, and almost made an instant impact but couldn’t keep his shot on target. The Hoops survived a scare minutes later as Burke cleared Cowan’s header off the line before Roberto Lopes heroically denied Foley’s follow-up. Mannus had to be alert to deny Clarke’s diving header on the hour mark, as the hosts found themselves frustrated.
Gaffney was inches from nodding in Lyons’s dangerous cross minutes later. Markey was close to putting the Louth side ahead on 75 minutes, but Alan Mannus gathered the ball just in time.
The breakthrough came on 80 minutes as Sean Kavanagh’s terrific cross was headed home by Emakhu. Rovers joy was short lived though, as Weir’s powerful strike at the death earned a point for Kevin Doherty’s side.
“It was very unlike us to concede that type of goal," said Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley, speaking after the draw.
“We’ll take the point and move on. After Europe it’s about picking up results and we got a result today. Were we at our best? Far from it."
Bradley also admitted key defender Lopes is a major doubt for Tuesday's Champions League tie against Ludogorets.
"It’s his knee, the doctor is with him now," said the Hoops boss.
"We need to see over the next few hours and in the morning as to how it settles. He’s a big player for us, forget about Tuesday, I’m talking the rest of the year. You know when he comes off he’s hurt because he doesn't come off. Hopefully it settles and he’s not too bad.”
Drogheda United boss Kevin Doherty was pleased with his side's performance against the league leaders.
“I thought we were the better team for most of the match," said Doherty.
"We defended our box really well which you’re going to do against Rovers. A Saturday game at 2pm in between two European ties, of course you’re going to have a little go off them and there’s no point sitting back. Our plan worked out alright."
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus; Gannon, Lopes (Hoare 53), Kavanagh; Lyons, Towell (Gaffney 46), O’Neill, Farrugia (Grace 60); Burke (Ferizaj 71), Greene (Emakhu 60), Watts.
DROGHEDA UNITED: McCabe; Weir, Quinn, Poynton (Noone 81), Cowan; Rooney (Grimes 81), Markey, Deegan, Clarke, Foley (Brennan 70); Williams (Lyons 74).
REF: Derek Tomney.