Drogheda United will face Shamrock Rovers in this year's Setanta Sports Cup final despite being beaten by a goal to nil by league champions Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds on Monday evening. A professional performance from Mick Cooke's side, with the help of two goal advantage from the first leg was enough to see United through to their third decider despite David Cawley's 31st minute strike.
The home side were without Seamus Conneely (knee), Raffaele Cretaro (thigh), and Ciaran Kelly (fractured sternum), while Danny North continues his recovery from a cruciate knee ligament injury. Both Joseph Ndo and Aaron Greene returned to the champions' starting eleven, while Alan Keane declared himself fit despite sustaining a broken nose in last Friday’s league defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic.
Each of Brian Gannon, Alan Byrne and Gary O'Neill passed late fitness tests to take their place in the United team. Declan O'Brien also returned after missing out on last week's win over UCD.
Trailing by two goals from the first leg, Sligo had their first chance to half United's lead on 12 minutes but Anthony Elding's attempted lob over United goalkeeper Gabriel Sava failed to test the former Monaghan man. Sava was involved three minutes later when he came to the edge of his area to clear away a Lee Lynch cross and although Sligo winger Aaron Greene was in an ideal position to pounce, Sava did just enough to clear the ball from danger.
Drogs' penalty area was living a charmed life and Alan Byrne, who was instrumental in the Boynesider's first leg win, was to thank for keeping Greene at bay again on 20 minutes. The former Shamrock Rovers winger got on the end of Pascal Millien's cross, but Byrne did just enough to take the ball from Greene's foot just before he pulled the trigger.
The home side's pressure eventually told on 31 minutes when Lynch - at the edge of the Drogheda area - found the feet of Cawley. The Mayo native then played a neat one two with Elding before slotting the ball past Sava to half the deficit.
Drogheda went in search of a goal that would have levelled the tie on the night and restored their two goal advantage in the tie. Gary O'Neill's drive at goal on 34 minutes was easily claimed by Gary Rogers, six minutes before David Cassidy's cross from the left was headed towards the back post by Gavin Brennan, but Rogers did just enough to put off O'Neill off as he looked to finish from close range.
Mick Cooke's side came painfully close to a leveller four minutes into the second half when Paul O'Connor's stunning volley from 30 yards hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced on to the goal line before Gavin Peers cleared the ball to safety. Referee Arnold Hunter and his additional assistant behind the Sligo goal, both agreeing that the ball had not crossed the line despite Drogheda protestations.
Both Elding and Greene went close on 54 and 57 minutes respectively.Elding did well to control a ball played over his shoulder from Lynch before volleying over Sava's crossbar from the edge of the area, while Greene smashed his shot from close range against the side netting having wriggled away from his marker.
McMillan was next to go close shortly after the hour mark when his header from a Joseph Ndo corner was cleared off the line by a well positioned Drogheda defender. The withdrawal of Ndo for Danny Ventre on 65 minutes led to a lull in Sligo's attacking rhythm and Drogs were comfortable from then on.
Rogers was equal to Ryan Brennan's volley from the edge of the area on 83 minutes before the Ventre blocked down a drive from a similar distance from the same player three minutes later as it looked as if the bottom corner was the ball's most likely destination.
Ian Baraclough's troops went in search of that elusive eqauliser to force extra-time, but Drogheda stood firm to set up a second cup decider against the Hoops in as many seasons.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers, Evan McMillan, Ross Gaynor; Pascal Millien, David Cawley, Joseph Ndo, Lee Lynch, Aaron Greene; Anthony Elding.
Subs: Adam Murphy, Iarfhlaith Davoren (for Gaynor 82), Jeff Henderson, Danny Ventre (for Ndo 65), Kieran Djilali, Liam Martin (for Millien 82), Ryan Connolly.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava: Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes, Alan Byrne, Brian Gannon; Gavin Brennan, David Cassidy, Paul O' Connor, Ryan Brennan; Declan O'Brien; Gary O'Neill.
Subs: Michael Schlingermann, Stephen Quigley, Philip Hand, Graham Rusk (for O'Brien 72), Michael Daly, Peter Hynes, Alan McNally.