Shamrock Rovers reclaimed top spot in the Airtricity League Premier Division as second-half goals from Thomas Stewart and Gary Twigg eased them past a disappointing Drogheda United at Tallaght Stadium.
Drogheda, whose relegation was confirmed after this result, employed a five-man midfield, offering the greater threat in the opening exchanges with Peter McMahon a lively presence on the left wing.
McMahon teed up John Flood in the early stages but he dragged his effort wide of Alan Mannus’ goal from just inside the penalty area.
The hosts were sluggish in comparison, with only Thomas Stewart consistently playing with any of the pace and intensity expected as nerves throughout the team belied their lofty league position.
After Yale Haro had warmed Mannus’ hands with a long-range attempt, Rovers finally created a genuine chance when Stewart was unlucky not to connect with Stephen Bradley’s cushioned pass after United had failed to clear a Dessie Baker corner in the 26th minute.
Buoyed by this half-chance, the Hoops assumed complete control for the remainder of the half, and it was Baker who spurned the best chance of the half when he headed Billy Dennehy’s teasing cross inches wide of the scrambling Robert Duggan’s right hand post.
Rovers’ new found dominance continued upon the restart and it took just six minutes for their supremacy to count as Enda Stevens found Craig Sives at the far post, and the centre-half’s downward header was bundled home by Stewart from close range.
The points were secured twelve minutes later as Chris Turner fed top scorer Gary Twigg who placed a superb shot inside Duggan’s left-hand post from 12 yards.
Drogheda’s misery was complete as both Corie Treacy and Ryan Brennan were dismissed in the final quarter as the Hoops held on ahead of next week’s title decider with Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Rice, Murphy, Price, Sives; Dennehy, Bradley (Stevens, 37), Turner (Bayly, 80), Stewart; Twigg, Baker (Fenn, 69).
Drogheda United: Duggan; Treacy, Haro, McNally, Harris (Synnott, 66); Meenan; Crowley (Brennan, 83), McGill (McNamara, 72) Daly, McMahon; Flood.
Referee: Declan Hanney (Dublin)