Shamrock Rovers 5-3 Drogheda United

Danny North’s hat-trick helped Shamrock Rovers finish the SSE Airtricity League season on a high, while the 5-3 defeat of Drogheda ensured their relegation to Division 1.

The Drogs responded to Limerick’s early goal in Sligo when Michael Daly tapped home from close range in the 17th minute, but two minutes later the luckless Robert O’Reilly put through his own goal to hand Rovers a fortunate equaliser.

The Boynesiders remained focused, however, and on 31 minutes they restored their lead when Tiarnan Mulvenna took advantage of slack defending to advance on goal before shooting past Barry Murphy.

But North converted a penalty on 55 minutes to make it 2-2 and then tapped in a rebound to put Rovers ahead for the first time.

Kieran Marty Waters scored Rovers’ fourth on 83 minutes and, after Lee Duffy pulled one back, North had the final say with another penalty as Sean Thornton was dismissed for the Drogs.

Drogheda needed to match Limerick’s result in Sligo to make sure of avoiding automatic relegation, but after only six minutes the Shannonsiders had the lead at The Showgrounds and the Boynesiders’ prospects of staying up already looked grim.

But the drama was only beginning and after Brandon Miele had tested Drogs keeper Micheal Schlingermann from distance, it was Drogheda who grabbed a precious lead goal.

Sean Thornton’s corner kick from the right was met by Alan Byrne’s header, and when keeper Barry Murphy could only parry, skipper Michael Daly was on hand to tap into the empty net.

News from Sligo that the home side had won a penalty kick was further good news for the Boynesiders, but then there was another double twist.

First, the Bit O’Red’s spot kick was saved, and moments later Drogheda’s goal was cancelled out in cruel fashion. Gary McCabe’s cross from the right was met by Byrne whose attempted clearance struck the boot of the luckless Robert O’Reilly and rolled past the stranded Schlingermann.

The visitors attempted to respond through Ger Pender, whose 25-yard shot flew a yard wide, but with Limerick scoring a second goal in Sligo the need for Drogheda to score again became even more pressing.

And out of nothing the away side responded when Brennan tapped a free kick to Mulvenna who advanced unchallenged before rolling a shot past the exposed Murphy.

The remainder of the first half was fairly uneventful, with Miele threatening again for the home side but unable to test Schlingermann, and Drogheda looking dangerous going forward.

And the news that Sligo had pulled a goal back against Limerick boosted the Louth men going into the half-time break.

But after Schlingermann had made a fine save early in the second period from a Gary McCabe pile driver, Rovers got back level in the 55th minute when Byrne dragged down Conor Kenna and North slotted the resulting penalty to the Drogheda net.

With Limerick having scored a third goal in Sligo, the Boynesiders’ Premier status was now hanging by a thread and their fate seemed to be sealed in the 75th minute when Rovers struck for the third time.

Miele’s stinging shot from 30 yards was parried by Schlingermann, but only into the path of North who had the easiest of tap-ins.

And substitute Waters piled more woe on the Drogs by netting Rovers’ fourth in the 83rd minute before Lee Duffy pulled one back with a powerful close-range effort two minutes from the end of normal time.

There was still time for North’s hat-trick goal, his second penalty, and Thornton got his marching orders, presumably for dissent.

Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, Conor Kenna, David O’Connor, Luke Byrne; Gary McCabe, Pat Cregg (Michael Drennan 66), Stephen McPhail, Brandon Miele; Danny North; Damien Duff (Kieran Marty Waters 80).

Subs not used: Dylan Kavanagh, David Webster, Gareth McCaffrey, Craig Hyland.

Drogheda United: Micheal Schlingermann; Michael Daly, Alan Byrne, Robert O’Reilly, Jason Marks; Adam Whelan (Lee Duffy 71), Sean Thornton, Mark Hughes, TiarnanMulvenna (Keith Treacy 61); Sean Brennan (Liam Donnelly 78); Ger Pender.

Subs not used: Mark O’Brien, Sam McGowan.

Referee: Dave McKeon (Meath).