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Shamrock Rovers put on their most complete performance to date to ease past the challenge of Drogheda United in Hunky Dorys Park on Friday night. Goals from Ciarán Kilduff, Billy Dennehy and a Gary Twigg brace saw the champions run out 4-0 winners and extend their unbeaten record this season.
The match was every bit as one sided as the score line suggested with the visitors controlling the game from the first whistle, despite the absence of midfield general Chris Turner who failed a late fitness test.
Rovers’ first genuine chance came after only three minutes when slack Drogheda defending allowed Ken Oman to meet a Billy Dennehy corner. But his free header sailed over the bar.
Rovers were constantly probing and looking for a way through the Drogs’ rear guard. They also frequently used the long ball with both Gary Twigg and Ciarán Kilduff being used as target men. This tactic drew a free kick from Drogs’ goalkeeper David Quirke who clattered into Kilduff on the edge of the box with 11 minutes played. Dennehy blasted the free kick just over.
Indeed Dennehy was at the heart of most of Rovers good play and the winger would finish the game with a goal and a man of the match performance. Before this however he was provider for the first goal after his cross on 28 minutes picked out the unmarked Twigg in the Drogs box. 2009’s top scorer made no mistake from six yards out.
The visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and only stout defending at the back by Robert Kovacsevics and Gareth Whelan kept Drogheda in it. The home side also had referee Neil Doyle to thank when he ruled Ken Oman’s strike on 33 minutes for offside.
A minute later, Ciarán Kilduff squandered a glorious one-on-one as Rovers continued to use the long ball.
The home side made two changes at half time but there was nothing either Anthony Costigan or Stephen Crossan could do to stop Rovers doubling their lead one minute after the restart. Kilduff eventually put the ball in the net after Pat Sullivan had hammered his effort off the bar.
Drogheda struggled to find their composure after this and yellow cards quickly followed for Mark O’Brien and Kovacsevics. Two minutes later Twigg grabbed his second and Rovers third when he reacted quickest to a breaking ball in the Drogs box after a Billy Dennehy corner.
Mick Cooke made his final change as Jack Flynn came on for the ineffectual Mark O’Brien. But it was more a case of saving face for Drogheda at this stage as they vainly looked for a consolation.
A goal did come soon after, but it was Rovers fourth. In the best move of the game, Gary McCabe found Pat Sullivan in acres of space on the right wing. The full back still had work to do but he picked out Dennehy who smashed the ball past David Quirke in the Drogs goal.
Drogheda never gave up and continued to fight for a consolation. But tame efforts by Jack Flynn and Philip Hand were as close as the bottom placed club could muster. Rovers substitute Karl Sheppard could have scored on 85 minutes but he failed to get his shot away after a great individual run.
Dennehy continued to impress right to the very end. He began a move two minutes from time that eventually ended with Sheppard wasting another good opportunity. But it didn’t matter; the game was sealed long before that. Rovers put on their most complete performance to date and showed just how deadly they can be when their many stars play to their potential.
Drogheda will have to dust themselves off and regroup. Mick Cooke will know his side’s fate come the end of the season won’t be decided by games against Shamrock Rovers. But his eyes will certainly have been opened to the huge task he faces to keep Drogheda playing Premier Division football.
Drogheda United: David Quirke; Robert Kovacsevics, Brian Gannon, Stephen Quigley, Gareth Whelan; John Lester (Anthony Costigan, 46), Philip Hand, Mark O’ Brien (Jack Flynn, 59), Colin O’ Brien (Stephen McCrossan, 46); David Freeman, Dinny Corcoran.
Subs not used: Stephen Trimble, Philip McDonagh, Darragh Hanaphy, Shaun Skelly.
Bookings: Trimble (14), M O’Brien (53), Kovacsevics (54).
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Pat Sullvan, Dan Murray, Ken Oman (Pat Flynn, 59), Enda Stevens; Billy Dennehy, Ronan Finn (Conor McCormack, 78), Stephen Rice, Gary McCabe; Gary Twigg, Ciarán Kilduff (Karl Sheppard, 76).
Subs not used: Ryan Thompson, Gary O’ Neill, Dean Kelly, Paddy Kavanagh.
Bookings: Rice (73).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Attendance: 1,000 (estimate).
Extraime.ie man of the match: Billy Dennehy (Shamrock Rovers). He scored a goal, created another and his set pieces caused more than a few problems for the Drogheda defence.