Saturday 24 February 2018

Tired Sligo edge back into title reckoning

UCD 0 Sligo Rovers 1

For a man who followed Liverpool to Rome in 1977 and 1984, Wembley in '78, Paris in '81 and Istanbul in 2005, Paul Cook cuts a surprising Euro sceptic.

Then again, it is one thing being a supporter, quite another being a manager. And, as Sligo Rovers boss, Cook watched his side's title challenge unravel in July and August after a congested fixture list and hellish trip to Ukraine stretched his resources.

And, given how long it is since Sligo's last league triumph -- the same year Cook and Liverpool celebrated their first European Cup in the Italian capital -- his doubts about the validity of Irish clubs chasing the impossible dream is understandable.

"This win means as much to me as last year's FAI Cup victory," said Cook.

"Why? Because it gets us back into the title race and could prove a defining moment in our season.

"The last month has knackered us. People said Europe would be good for us, but the truth is we've a small squad -- that's a fact not an excuse -- and the round trip to the Ukraine had a detrimental effect.


"Now, if we lose the league by a point, I will look back on July and August, when we lost to Bohs and drew with Dundalk and St Pat's, and wonder if European football is good for us.

"Progressing in those competitions will always prove a bridge too far. Sometimes I don't see the benefit of it, but that doesn't mean we should give up and not enter. It just means we might lose a league."

Yet, if Eoin Doyle continues his rich vein of form then they won't. Scorer of his 17th goal of the season -- a clever finish after Richie Ryan had split the UCD defence in the 37th minute -- Doyle showed a sharpness that was lacking in his colleagues.

In spite of their lethargy, they still beat credible opponents to move above Shamrock Rovers and within touching distance of leaders Derry City.

"We've nine games left and we want to win all nine," said Cook.

The prize if they do so? A place in the European Champions League.

UCD -- Barron; Harding (Benson h-t), Leahy, D O'Connor, Ledwith; Marshall, Creevy (Doyle 84), Corry, P O'Conor, Meenan; Rusk.

Sligo Rovers -- Clarke; Cretaro, Peers, McGuinness, Powell; Dillon (Greene 62), Ventre, Ryan, Doyle; Ndo (Kirby 53); Blinkhorn (Davoren 84).

REF -- G Kelly (Cork)

Irish Independent

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