Shamrock Rovers cruised to a 4-0 victory over an out-classed Drogheda United side at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday afternoon to move level on points with league leaders Sligo Rovers.
The Hoops dominated their opponents from start to finish, and could have added to more to the goals from Karl Sheppard, Ciaran Kilduff, Billy Dennehy and Gary O’Neill without it flattering the hosts.
Rovers’ manager Michael O’Neill freshened up his starting team after the massive performance against Tottenham Hotspur in London on Thursday evening, making six changes in personnel, featuring a new look attack of Kilduff and Sheppard.
The visitors offered almost nothing in attack all afternoon, and Rovers had a comfortable stranglehold on possession, but the Drogs’ mass defence meant that the opener was slow to come.
The goal finally did arrive 23 minutes when the constant Rovers pressure tolled. After a series of corners, a fine delivery by Rohan Ricketts was met by the head of Karl Sheppard inside the six yard area and the ball beat Drogheda net minder Stephen Trimble to nestle in the net.
Gaps in the United defence were beginning to appear regularly now and it could have been two with 28 minutes gone had anyone met Sheppard’s tantalizing centre.
In a rare foray forward just after the half hour mark Drogheda midfielder Peter McMahon hit a fine shot but the ball flew narrowly past Richard Brush’s right hand post, but this was as good as it got
for the visitors in the opening half.
With seven minutes left to half time, Rovers almost doubled their lead. A fine cross from the left hand side by Jim Paterson was not dealt with by Trimble, whose punch only reached Conor McCormack on the edge of the area. His shot went narrowly over the bar after taking a deflection off a Drogheda defender.
The Hoops did eventually make it 2-0 with four minutes remaining in the first half, when Karl Sheppard pounced on an Alan McNally error to send Ciaran Kilduff into a one-on-one with Trimble. Kilduff rounded the Drogs keeper and coolly slotted home left footed from twelve yards. Rovers went in two goals to the good at half time after totally dominating the opening period.
Rovers began the second half on the front foot once more, and Chris Turner should have got his name on the score sheet inside the hour following fine crosses by Sullivan and Sheppard.
Chances were arriving at will for the hosts, with opportunities for Kilduff and Sheppard sandwiching another good long range drive by McMahon for the visitors.
The Drogheda rearguard buckled again in the 70th minute. Rovers were awarded a penalty when Brian Gannon was booked for Drogs after he fouled a Rovers attacker in the area. Half time substitute Billy Dennehy smashed the resulting spot-kick home to make it 3-0.
Drogheda thought they had pulled one back when Lee Lynch’s cross from the right split the Rovers defence and Dinny Corcoran was on hand to tap in, but the linesman’s flag was raised for offside. Rovers added their fourth and final goal with nine minutes remaining of normal time. Billy Dennehy's pass from the right found O'Neill in space inside the visitor’s box and his low shot beat Trimble to find the corner.
Rovers could easily have added to the rout as in the remaining minutes Turner, Dennehy and Stevens all went close, with the game now resembling a training match for the home side.
The full time whistle was greeted by a huge ovation from the Rovers’ faithful, with the chant of 'Bring on the Bohs' ringing round Tallaght. That match on at home on Wednesday evening will provide a much sterner examination of their title credentials that this one-sided affair.
Shamrock Rovers: Richard Brush; Pat Sullivan, Craig Sives (Billy Dennehy, 46), Dan Murray (c), Enda Stevens; Conor McCormack (Ronan Finn, 77), Jim Paterson, Chris Turner, Rohan Ricketts; Ciaran Kilduff, Karl Sheppard (Gary O’Niell, 71).
Subs not used: Craig Hyland, Stephen O’Donnell, Stephen Rice, Gary Twigg.
Bookings: Paterson (73).
Drogheda United: Stephen Trimble; Robbie Gaul, Alan McNally, Dave Rogers (c), Philip Hand; Lee Lynch, Brian Gannon (Tiarnan Mulvanna, 79), Peter McMahon, Shane Fitzgerald (Stephen Quigley, 46), Gavin Brennan; Jordan White (Dinny Corcoran, 60).
Subs not used: Keith McCarthy, Robbie Clarke, Shane Dolan, Toni Melis.
Bookings: Gannon (70), Mulvenna (82).
Referee: Tom Connolly.
Attendance: 2,500 (estimate).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Karl Sheppard. On what was a rare start these days, he was industrious; taking his goal well and providing an assist for strike partner Kilduff.