Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium
It was another disappointing night for Shamrock Rovers as they drew at home to Drogheda United, missing the opportunity to go clear at the top of the table after St. Patrick’s Athletic had drawn earlier in the evening away to Waterford.
The result means the champions have just the two wins in their last eight matches. Graham Burke was central to the drama, scoring from the penalty spot in the first half and then conceding a penalty 11 minutes into the second allowing Chris Lyons to equalise.
Having had 1,000 Rovers fans in the venue a fortnight ago for their draw against Finn Harps, the atmosphere for this game was added to by the vocal travelling support. As part of the government test events, this was the first time that away spectators were accommodated at a game with 100 Drogs supporters part of the 1,000 spectators in attendance.
Stephen Bradley, who was managing his 200th Rovers game in all competitions, had deployed striker Aaron Greene on the left towards to end of a couple of recent matches but he started Greene at left wing back for this game.
Skipper Ronan Finn came back into the starting XI for the first time since mid-May and, in a central role, he harried the visitors throughout the first half.
Alan Mannus certainly was the quieter goalkeeper in the opening 45 minutes. Drogheda did put a couple of free kicks deep into the box that required him at least to be on his toes.
The closest trouble he had in the opening 45 was a Jordan Adeyemo header off a Ronan Murray free but his involvement was more about starting Rovers’ attacks as they looked to pass through the Drogheda press.
The Hoops dominated possession and they constantly probed the Drogs defence trying to find an opening. They made the break through thanks to Graham Burke’s fourth penalty kick of the league campaign in the 19th minute after Sean Gannon was tripped in the box by Dane Massey.
Referee Paul McLaughlin pointed to the spot and Burke sent it low to the left as David Odumosu went the other way moving Burke to seven goals for the season.
Sean Gannon and Pico Lopes both had shooting opportunities but failed to hit the target when they faced Odumosu leaving the lead at just a solitary goal at the break and Rovers were to rue not building on Burke's goal.
Tim Clancy switched from a flat back four to three at the back in the second half as they looked to get back into the game. Killian Phillips dropped to the right of Daniel O’Reilly. Ten minutes in he brought 14 goals off the bench having left Chris Lyons and Mark Doyle (both on seven goals) out of his starting XI.
And it was Lyons who got the Drogs back into the game. Having scored from the penalty spot in the first half, Burke’s foul ended a penetrating Darragh Markey run with a foul in the box to hand the visitors a spot kick that Lyons duly dispatched.
For a while the goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of Rovers and the visitors were helped by the suddenly more vocal away supporters cheering their team on but as Drogheda dropped deeper they conceded possession and more shooting chances.
Gaffney three times went close – the first just heading over the crossbar and the second, a rasping shot from the right forcing a fingertip save from Odumosu.
The final chance on 90 minutes he clipped the ball by the ‘keeper only for the ball to bounce back off the post. Bradley had nine subs on the bench but declined to use any of them as they sought a late winner that never came.
With the season reaching the half-way point, the Hoops can at least be happy with sitting level on points and goal difference with table toppers St. Patrick’s Athletic but there is very much a title going on and a real battle if Rovers are to retain their title.
Next up for them is the visit of Dundalk to Tallaght. Tim Clancy will be very happy with his return from the opening 18 games of the season with this draw moving them to within one point of fourth placed Bohs.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Hoare, Roberto Lopes, Liam Scales; Ronan Finn (c), Sean Gannon, Aaron Greene, Daniel Mandroiu, Gary O'Neill; Graham Burke, Rory Gaffney.
Subs not used: Leon Pohls, Lee Grace, Dylan Watts, Adam Wells, Dean Williams, Darragh Nugent, Max Murphy, Conan Noonan, Aidomo Emakhu.
Booked: Ronan Finn (37).
Drogheda United: David Odumosu; Luke Heeney, Conor Kane, Dane Massey, Daniel O'Reilly; Gary Deegan, Darragh Markey, Ronan Murray (Mark Doyle 56), Killian Phillips; Jordan Adeyemo (Chris Lyons 56), Dinny Corcoran (James Clarke 69).
Subs not used: Colin McCabe, Sam O’Brien, Mohamed Boudiaf, Charles Mutawe, Ryan O’Shea, Mark Hughes.
Booked: Daniel O'Reilly (29) .
Sent off: None
Referee: Paul McLoughlin
extratime.com Player of the Match: Darragh Markey (Drogheda United)