Brian Gannon’s dramatic late strike for 10-man Drogheda clinched a place in next season’s Europa League at a rocking Hunky Dorys Park.
After forming a guard of honour for newly-crowned champions Sligo, the Boynesiders took the lead on 31 minutes when Alan McNally headed home Eric Foley's corner kick.
But the battle to secure third place in the league seemed to be going down to the final week of the season when Liam Buchanan replied 30 seconds into the second half and Drogheda’s Declan O’Brien was sent off for a second booking after protesting that the goal should have been ruled out.
But Mick Cooke’s heroes hung on before striking in dramatic fashion on 89 minutes when Gannon curled the ball beyond Richard Brush from the edge of the box.
The Boynesiders had a great chance to score inside 30 seconds as Sean Brennan whipped in a left-wing cross towards brother Ryan whose header flew narrowly wide.
The champions hit back on six minutes when Joseph Ndo’s searching pass picked out the on-rushing Lee Lynch who advanced on goal before unleashing a diagonal shot that was clawed away by keeper Gabriel Sava.
Drogheda wasted a number of free kicks in dangerous areas and Sligo nearly made them pay when Lee Lynch intercepted a poor pass and released Liam Buchanan, whose diagonal shot failed to trouble Sava.
When Ryan Connolly’s 30-yard effort was tipped over the bar by Sava, Sligo appeared to be gaining the upper hand, but it was Drogheda who struck decisively on 31 minutes. From Foley’s corner kick McNally rose highest to plant a header low to Richard Brush’s left.
Coming up to half-time United were totally dominant as a weary-looking Sligo struggled to clear their lines, with Hand having their best chance when he drilled narrowly wide just before the 45-minute mark.
But in a matter of seconds right at the start of the second half the game was turned on its head. Buchanan broke through and shot against the Drogheda post, and when Raffaele Cretaro drilled the ball back towards goal Buchanan tapped the ball in from almost on the goal-line.
There was no flag from the assistant referee, despite a hint of offside, and O’Brien’s protest earned him a second booking of the game, leaving the Drogs down to 10 men.
After that Sligo bossed the game, but struggled to prise open a dogged Drogheda defence.
Alan Byrne threw himself in the way of a goal-bound Buchanan effort and Sava then performed heroics to block a Ryan Connolly shot with his feet.
A succession of substitutions took some of the sting out of the Sligo attack, but they rallied again as the Boynesiders began to tire and Sava produced a brilliant save to tip over a John Dillon pile driver on 81 minutes.
But out of nothing the 10 men snatched a priceless goal in the 89th minute when Gannon popped up with a superb curling shot that gave Brush no chance.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Alan McNally, Alan Byrne, Philip Hand; Sean Brennan, Brian Gannon, Eric Foley, Ryan Brennan; Peter Hynes, Declan O’Brien. Subs: Mulvenna for Hynes (66min), Sullivan for Foley (73min), Marks for S Brennan (82min).
SLIGO ROVERS: Richard Brush; Jeff Henderson, Gavin Peers, Jason McGuinness, Ross Gaynor; Joseph Ndo, Lee Lynch, David Cawley, Liam Buchanan; Raffaele Cretaro, Ryan Connolly. Subs: Dillon for Cawley (66min), Millien for Buchanan (78min), Owen for Henderson (78min).
Referee: Tom Connolly (Dublin).