Sligo Rovers kept their hopes of making a late push for European qualification alive with a hard fought 1-0 win over Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday evening.
After an attritional first half which yielded few moments of quality, Eamon Zayed scored his first goal for the Bit O’Red shortly after the break to give John Coleman’s side their second consecutive SEE Airtricity League victory ahead of the visit of league leaders Dundalk on Monday.
Bray fought valiantly up until the final whistle, but they have now gone twelve games without a win as their alarming freefall continues.
After an indifferent string of results, which has left them playing catch-up, Sligo are all too aware that there is now little margin for error should they harbour any realistic hopes of staging a late push for a berth in the top four.
On their last three visits to the seaside, the Bit O’Red have fallen foul of Bray’s attritional and indefatigable tactics, but in deploying Evan McMillan as the lone striker, John Coleman fought fire with fire.
Indeed, his towering presence preoccupied the Bray centre backs, but ultimately did little to free up space between the lines for those hoping to feed off scraps between him.
Eamon Zayed, Sean Maguire and Daryl Kavanagh interchanged incessantly throughout, but the hosts were content to sit tight in a rigid formation and congest the central areas. For much of the first half, the direct
route to McMillan was proving to be most fruitful.
A neat flick-on set the onrushing Zayed through on goal, but Stephen McGuinness was quickly off his line to mop up the danger and the young goalkeeper was called into action soon after when Michael Barker’s moment of hesitation, and then slip, allowed Maguire space in the box but his shot was parried behind.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic, however. Bray, although in freefall, can give as good as they get and certainly posed a threat on the counter-attack. Yet, as the league’s lowest scorers with just eighteen goals, they lack the killer edge in the final third and the precarious position they find themselves in certainly stems from such failings.
Both Adam Mitchell and Philly Hughes were left to rue missed opportunities in the first half. David Cassidy found a pocket of space, flicked Graham Kelly’s corner goal wards, but Mitchell was unable to get enough contact on it, allowing Gary Rogers to gratefully clear.
Hughes has been recruited to give the Seagulls an added dynamism up top and some composure on front of goal but the striker was guilty of snatching at Ismahil Akinade’s cutback after a brisk counter caught Sligo cold.
While enjoying much of the possession, although scrappy for the most part, Sligo were unable to find the sort of fluency required to stretch the disciplined Bray rearguard.
Mitchell was in the right place at the right time to prevent Kalen Spillane from latching onto another McMillan knock down and then Zayed was unable to bundle home Gavan Peer’s glancing header at the back
post shortly before the break.
The visitors found the breakthrough their play had merited three minutes into the second period. For all their organisation, Bray simply cannot compensate for individual errors and when there seemed to be little danger, Cooney deflected the ball into Zayed’s path, catching his team mates unaware and the striker needed little invitation to fire home from the edge of the area.
To their credit, Bray looked to respond immediately and after cutting through Rovers’ defence with a neat interchange, Cassidy was unable to keep his effort on target after lifting the ball over the advancing Rogers.
At the other end, Sligo had opportunities to kill their dogged opponents off, but Maguire’s low effort narrowly went wide, giving Bray hope of salvaging a point.
Indeed, a late onslaught ensued with McMillan reverting to his familiar position at the heart of the defence to help batten down the hatches. Mitchell scrapped the top of the bar with a powerful header but Sligo held firm to keep their sixth clean sheet against Bray in their last seven meetings.
Bray Wanderers: Stephen McGuinness; Michael Barker (Jake Kelly, 78’), Adam Mitchell, Niall Cooney, Joe Gorman; Ismahil Akinade, Graham Kelly, David Cassidy, Dean Zambra (c), Shane O’Neill (Robert Maloney, 58’); Philip Hughes.
Subs not used: Gavin Sheridan, Shane O’Connor, Gareth McDonagh, Ryan Coombes, Sean Hurley.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers, Alan Keane, Gavin Peers (c), Kalen Spillane, Daniel Ledwith (Regan Donelon, 74’); David Cawley, Seamus Conneely; Sean Maguire, Eamon Zayed (Ruairi Keating, 88’), Daryl Kavanagh (Paul O’Conor, 64’); Evan McMillan.
Subs not used: Richard Brush, Ryan McManus, Liam Flatley, Gary Armstrong.
Referee: Jim McKell.