By Ed Leahy at Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers’ European dreams were quashed on the final night of the Airtricity League Premier Division season at Tallaght Stadium, after losing 2-1 to Sligo Rovers.
The Hoops needed to better Derry City’s result but the Candystripes recorded a facile victory over Limerick, which meant the score at Tallaght was immaterial as the Hoops finished a disappointing fifth.
Shane Robinson had opened the scoring for Rovers in the 26th minute before Aaron Greene hit back for Sligo five minutes later.
The Bit O’Red were still looking to secure second place in the league and Danny North was sprung off the bench with 30 minutes remaining and was on hand to grab the winner after latching on to a superb cross from Kieran Djilali.
Tonight’s fixture was a re-run of the FAI Cup semi-final clash from earlier this month, which Sligo won 3-0 at the Showgrounds.
That was a feisty affair but the opening exchanges from tonight’s clash were a far cry from that last-four cup clash with both sides easing into this end of season encounter.
But the home side looked hungrier and almost opened the scoring in the sixth minute as Ronan Finn cut in from right, but his snap-shot was pushed wide by Sligo stand-in keeper Ciaran Kelly. Derek Foran’s header was then cleared off line from resulting corner.
Sligo hit back three minutes later after great work by Djilali in midfield to set Cretaro free down the right flank. The Tubercurry man sent a super ball across the six-yard box but Greene mis-kicked on arrival, perhaps put off by Foran’s similar inability to connect.
Chances were exchanged over the next ten minutes with Robinson testing Kelly and Djilali sliding in at the other end to direct his effort on target but straight at Richard Brush.
But the Hoops were looking most dangerous and Kelly again saved well from Finn, who cut in from the right to unleash a stinging shot on the Sligo goal.
Five minutes later, the Hoops took the lead as Robinson smashed the ball home from edge of box after Stewart and Finn caused problems in the Sligo box.
And the goal seemed to instil a confidence in Trevor Croly’s side as they dominated possession following the opening goal with Sean O’Connor on target with a curling effort, although it was an easy enough save for Kelly.
But Sligo always looked dangerous pushing forward and the equaliser duly arrived just past the half-hour mark after they were gifted the ball in midfield.
O’Connor was caught after turning into a sea of red jerseys on the half-way line and the ball broke to Djilali, who strode forward before playing an inch-perfect pass to put Greene through on goal, and the former Hoop made no mistake with a great finish past Brush.
The momentum was now with Sligo and Ian Baraclough’s side had a great chance to take the lead in the 37th minute as Cretaro was found in space down the right flank but was taken down by the sweeping Brush who had raced out of his goal to clear.
The resulting free came to nothing and Brush rightly received a yellow card for his mistimed tackle. A red card was out of the question as there was plenty of cover with Cretaro heading towards the corner flag.
The Hoops hit-back and had two chances to grab a lead before the break with Tommy Stewart’s snap-shot finding the hands of Kelly, before Finn ran right through the Sligo midfield and smacked a fine effort, but the ball flew just past the post, preventing what would have been a fine individual goal.
The second half started even slower than the opening period and it was eight minutes in before there was a chance of note with Finn smashing the ball wide.
And perhaps the news from the Brandywell started to filter down to the Hoops players for the final half-hour as Sligo appeared to take control of the game with little resistance from the home side.
Or perhaps credit should be given to Sligo boss Baraclough who made a double substitution bringing Danny North and Anthony Elding on; a last chance to put their names in the mix for a Cup final starting XI place.
And sure enough the second goal arrived in the 71st minute as man of the match Djilali sped down the right before playing another sublime ball into the box where sub North was waiting to side-foot the simplest of chances past the wrong-footed Brush.
Baraclough’s reigning-champions failed to defend their title but will head to the Aviva Stadium next Sunday looking to finish the season on a high, as they take on Drogheda United in the FAI Cup final.
For Trevor Croly’s Rovers, it’s back to the drawing board.
Shamrock Rovers: Richard Brush; Conor McCormack, Derek Foran, Jason McGuinness, Conor Powell; Gary McCabe, Ronan Finn, Richie Ryan (Eamon Zayed 78), Shane Robinson (capt), Sean O’Connor (Billy Dennehy 72); Thomas Stewart.
Subs not used: Barry Murphy, David Elebert, Stephen Rice, Ken Oman, James Chambers.
Sligo Rovers: Ciaran Kelly; Seamus Conneely, Evan McMillan, Jeff Henderson, Iarfhlaith Davoren; Rafaele Cretaro (Danny North 60), David Cawley, Danny Ventre, Ross Gaynor (Anthony Elding 60); Kieran Djilali, Aaron Greene (David McMillan 75).
Subs not used: Matt Gredhill, Pascal Millien, Lee Lynch, Alan Keane.
Referee: Neil Doyle.