Alan Keane, returning from suspension, headed past his own keeper to cancel Eoin Doyle’s opener and former Sligo Rovers midfielder Chris Turner scored a controversial header, earning the visitors the spoils.
The opening 25 minutes was a cagey affair, with Shamrock Rovers putting Billy Dennehy to good use down the left wing. Opposite winger Paddy Kavanagh had the first real change to open the scoring on 20 minutes. Robert Bayly intercepted a Richie Ryan pass in his own half and set Kavanagh bearing down on goal. The former Bray man danced around Danny Ventre and with just Richard Brush to beat, he couldn’t keep his shot on target.
Four minutes later and Eoin Doyle scored his 4th goal for the season. A Joseph Ndo corner from the left found the former Hoop alone at the back post to head home.
The home side were reduced to ten men on 37 minutes when referee Richie Winter deemed Gavin Peer’s late challenge on Billy Dennehy a red card offence. Rovers fans who attended last Augusts’ EA Sports Cup semi-final will remember the same official controversially sending off Martin Camano in Dalymount Park.
The red card forced Paul Cook to send on defender Derek Foran in place of winger John Dillon. The first half ended with chances at both ends; Richard Brush saving a point blank header from Gary Twigg, Billy Dennehy rifling a shot from distance off the up-right following a wrongly awarded throw-in to the Dublin side and Eoin Doyle volleyed wide as he looked for a second.
Michael O’Neill wasn’t looking for a share of the points as he brought on attacker Thomas Stewart for defender Danny Murphy at the break. And they should have gone 2-1 up in the opening minutes of the second half when Gary Twigg put Robert Bayly in, but his tame shot was easy for Brush to collect.
The sides were level on 54 minutes. Alan Keane rose to prevent Gary Twigg getting on the end of a Billy Dennehy cross but instead the ball came off the Rovers defenders’ head and into the top corner, leaving Brush helpless.
Despite the numerical disadvantage the home side kept the foot on the gas. The league’s top scorer Padraig Amond was proving his worth all over the pitch, mopping up at the back, creating chances and doing his best to get on the end of things.
On 61 minutes Chris Turner, who turned his back on a return to the Showgrounds before the start of the season converted a controversial header. His effort initially hit the cross bar, but the referees assistant deemed the ball crossed the goal line as it rebounded off the ground.
New signing for the Bit O’Red, Lee McEvilly made his debut five minutes later, coming on for Eoin Doyle. The former Accrington Stanley striker, with a senior Northern Ireland cap to his name, forced Alan Mannus into a save minutes after his introduction. McEvilly showed he can create chances too, crossing from the right only for Amond to mis-time a diving header by a split second.
However, with just under half an hour remaining referee Richie Winter left the home fans irate. He failed to award a spot kick after John Russell went down in the box. The midfielder beat three Shamrock Rovers players in quick succession but was clearly brought down inside the area.
The 10 men of Sligo Rovers dominated the remainder of the game setting up camp in the visitors half of the pitch. It was testament to the quality in Paul Cook’s side, they remained calm, sticking resolutely to their passing game in search of the elusive equaliser which alas, was not to come
Sligo Rovers: R Brush, A Keane, D Ventre, G Peers, I Davoren, J Dillon (D Foran 38), J Russell (C O’Grady 87), J Ndo, R Ryan, E Doyle (L McEvilly65), P Amond.
Shamrock Rovers: A Mannus, C Sives, A Price, D Murray (T Stewart HT), D Murphy, B Dennnehy (S Rice 76), J Chambers (P Flynn 85), C Turner.
Extratime Man Of The Match: John Russell