Rovers beat Drogheda at the Showgrounds
Sligo Rovers brought the race for second spot in the Airtricity League Premier Division down to the final day as they recorded a 3-1 win over Drogheda United at the Showgrounds. An Anthony Elding brace along with an Evan McMillan strike left the Bit o'Red two points off second placed Dundalk with one game to go. Sligo must now beat Shamrock Rovers next Friday and hope the Lillywhites slip up against Bray Wanderers on the same night to finish in the runners-up spot.
Sligo boss Ian Baraclough made six changes to the side that surrendered their league trophy at Richmond Park last Sunday with Ross Gaynor, Seamus Conneely, Lee Lynch, Pascal Millien, Liam Martin and Anthony Elding all returning to the starting eleven.
Joseph Ndo was Rovers' only absentee with a hamstring complaint.
Mick Cooke brought his side west of the Shannon for United's final away league game of the season, making two changes to the team that drew with UCD last week. The EA Sports and Setanta Cup finalists were without Alan Byrne who missed the game for personal reasons. Gavan Holohan and Eric Foley returned to the side in place of Byrne and Paul O'Connor respectively.
Both sides face each other again in two weeks time at the Aviva Stadium in the FAI Cup final and it was Drogs who almost snatched an early lead with less than a minute played. Conneely conceded possession inside his own half before the ball broke to Foley who saw his volley deflected away for a corner with just 40 seconds elapsed.
Elding flashed his seventh minute header over Gabriel Sava's crossbar after he latched on to the end of a Gaynor corner from the left, while Graham Rusk saw his attempted lob bounce off the top of the Sligo crossbar five minutes later.
Gaynor skied his effort from 30 yards on the half hour mark having been teed up by Alan Keane as the pace of the game lulled somewhat.
The tie was however brought to life on 38 minutes when the home side captured the lead. Drogs failed to clear a Gaynor cross from the left and the ball fell to Elding at the edge of the area who then fired low, hard and past the helpless Sava to open the lead.
The last act of a forgettable opening half saw Sligo goalkeeper Gary Rogers at full stretch to push Philip Hand's curling free kick from 20 yards over his crossbar.
The early stages of the second half didn't show any signs of improvement from either side and those in attendance had to wait until the 62nd minute for a chance of note as Evan McMillan did well to clear away Ryan Brennan's low cross. The former Bohemians centre half doing well to clear the danger as the ball looked to be making its way towards Peter Hynes in a dangerous position at the back post.
The home side then doubled their lead on 65 minutes when Evan McMillan's attempted shot at goal was blocked down by the hand of Shane Grimes inside the United area. Referee Derek Tomney showed little hesitation in pointing to the spot and Elding powerfully side footed the ball past Sava from twelve yards for his second of the night and his 18th goal of the season,
Sava did well to keep out Alan Keane on 69 minutes when Lee Lynch sent the ball over the top of the United defence and to the Galway native's feet. Keane's quick control and resulting shot was diverted away by a brave Sava block.
Mick Cooke emptied his bench with 19 minutes to play as Declan O'Brien, Cathal Brady and Paul O'Conor were all introduced to the fray in an effort to force Drogheda back into the game.
But Rovers stretched their lead to three on 73 minutes when Evan McMillan, unmarked, got his head on to the end of another Gaynor corner to put the Westerners firmly in control of the game.
Sava was on hand again on 79 minutes to deny Rovers substitute David McMillan, moments before brother Evan was on hand to clear O'Conor's effort over his own crossbar at the other end.
Michael Daly then forced Rogers into a fine save seven minutes from time as the Rovers number one got his fingertips to the winger's effort from the angle.
United were given a glimmer of hope on 89 minutes when Gavin Brennan neatly placed his penalty past Rogers following Gavin Peers' clumsy tackle on O'Brien. This was the first goal Sligo have conceded at the Showgrounds since Daniel Chima Chukwu's first half strike during Rovers' 1-0 defeat to Molde FK in the same venue in the Champions League in July.
But Brennan's spot kick was too little too late as the Bit o'Red finished their final home game of the season with a deserved victory.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane (for David Cawley 87), Gavin Peers, Evan McMillan, Ross Gaynor; Pascal Millien, Danny Ventre (for David McMillan 61), Seamus Conneely, Lee Lynch, Liam Martin; Anthony Elding (for Danny North 80).
Subs not used: Ciaran Kelly, Jeff Henderson, Raffaele Cretaro, Kieran Djilali.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Gavan Holohan, Philip Hand, Alan McNally, Shane Grimes; Ryan Brennan (for Cathal Brady 71), Mick Daly, Eric Foley (for Declan O'Brien 71), Gavin Brennan; Graham Rusk (for Paul O'Conor 71), Peter Hynes.
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Jason Marks, Derek Prendergast, David Cassidy.
Referee: Derek Tomney