Ten-man Shelbourne held on bravely to all but stave off the threat of relegation from the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division as Sligo Rovers' hopes of finishing in the top four suffered a crushing blow on a balmy evening in north Dublin.

Skipper Gary Deegan blasted home the only goal of an entertaining game towards the end of its first quarter and it was always going to be one of those matches where the first would be critical.

The dismissal of Luke Byrne gave Sligo hope but they made little impression and too many of their offensive players did not do enough to make the difference.

John Mahon's return for the visitors, the hugely promising defender having broken his leg in a pre-season game, was a major talking point. And he made a superb intervention to stop Ciaran Kilduff potentially giving Shels the lead six minutes in, Ryan Brennan having played him in; within 90 seconds, Kilduff was threatening again but Ed McGinty got down well.

The busy Jesse Devers crossed for Ronan Coughlan whose header had more going for it in the direction than the power stakes on 13 minutes.

Shels took the lead in superb circumstances on 20 minutes. Big Finn Teemu Penninkangas gave the ball away and then was caught out by Kilduff whose superb cross was dummied by Dayle Rooney, Deegan blasting in off the crossbar.

The disappointing Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, who has scored only once for Sligo, glanced a header wide from David Cawley’s free-kick as Sligo rallied.

The outstanding Kilduff put Denzil Fernandes straight through on goal a half-hour in but a horribly heavy touch killed his chance and McGinty smothered.

Coughlan was a danger for Sligo and, from Devers’ cross, his curled effort was just over Jack Brady’s crossbar with five minutes to go before the break.

Full match details

Sligo finished the half really strongly but failed to cause any real problems for Brady, Ryan De Vries curling wide in injury time, before Rooney’s crisp shot was dealt with by McGinty to conclude a cracking opening half.

Dan O’Reilly, a replacement for the injured Georgie Poynton earlier, made a brilliant block as Ogedi-Uzokwe tried to restore parity just after the restart. Coughlan then pulled his shot wide as Sligo continued to press. 

Shels’ work-rate was epitomised by Kilduff rushing to keep the ball in on the hour-mark and finding Brennan, who was fouled, killing a bit of time in a tight game.

Shels were reduced to 10 men on 69 minutes, Luke Byrne sent off after what looked an honest 50-50 with Ogedi-Uzokwe. It had the air of a desperately harsh straight red, a potentially premature end to the season for the centre-back.

Shels were going to struggle to hold on thereafter, it would seem, and substitute Alex Cooper could easily have equalised, only to drive wide on his left foot.

A hopeful injury-time punt by Mahon in the direction of Ogedi-Uzokwe, who was being man-handled by O'Reilly, had the Shels substitutes in the main stand fretting but the Reds got away with it. It looked a penalty.

Strangely, Rovers created next to nothing against the 10 men, who grew in confidence and worked so hard as if it were their last game this year. They are now near certainties to be in the top flight again in 2021.

Shelbourne: Brady; Poynton (O’Reilly 19), O Brennan, Byrne, O'Hanlon; Fernandes (D Byrne 72), Deegan, Byrne, R Brennan (Quinn 85); Rooney; Kilduff (Dobbs 85).

Sligo Rovers: McGinty; Olberkis (Cooper 60), Mahon, Penninkangas, Banks; Cawley, Morahan (Seymour 78); Devers (Byrne 78), Coughlan, De Vries (Noone 60), Ogedi-Uzokwe.