North steals show as Sligo claim third FAI Cup in four years
Anthony Elding’s late winner breaks Drogheda’s resistance in a dramatic incident-packed encounter
Sligo Rovers striker Anthony Elding celebrates scoring the winning goal deep in injury time during yesterday’s FAI Cup final against Drogheda United at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Having recently concluded a search for the best final of the competition’s first century or so, Ford and the FAI were presented with an early contender for next time around yesterday. For quite a while this one was mainly open and energetic, which was entertaining enough its own right. But gradually it built into something rather more memorable until, over the closing stages, both sides cranked things up another gear or two to produce an utterly compelling finish.
Ultimately, you could say, Sligo substitute Danny North proved the critical difference between the sides with two goals in the last 15 minutes and a third – the winner – laid on for Anthony Elding deep into added time. Drogheda, though, will wonder just how so much managed to come down to the contribution of one man in a game in which they led for a long time, worked hard and defended well.
They may complain too about North’s second, the product of a controversially taken free kick that was immediately followed by furious protests during which Derek Prendergast was eventually sent off. Joseph Ndo took the free without waiting for Paul Tuite to blow his whistle despite the fact that the referee had become embroiled in getting the Drogheda wall back 10 yards.
With Mick Cooke’s men still settling in front of him, Ndo scooped the ball over the wall for North, who stole a yard on David Cassidy, to fire home. As the striker ran away celebrating, an obvious sense of shock quickly turned to anger for the his opponents.
The striker’s first had been from a set piece too with an Ndo corner flicked on by Elding before ricocheting rather kindly off the chest of Alan Byrne for North who pounced to fire home from just beyond the far post.
It was a cruel reversal for Drogheda who had absorbed a great deal of pressure from the pre-match favourites while managing to pose a persistent threat to Ian Baraclough’s side on the break. Both sides had chances to score and goals disallowed but as the afternoon wore on it started to seem that United really would hold out and Paul O’Conor’s goal after just 14 minutes would decide things.
That strike showed just how stretched Sligo could become at times with United breaking quickly from a corner at their end and moving the ball well courtesy of Ryan Brennan and Cassidy before Shane Grimes arrived on the overlap to send in a cross. It ran straight to O’Conor who, with time and space on his hands, really only had to keep his head from 10 metres which he did – sidefooting home to the roof of the net.
It was neither the first nor the last time that Rovers were left looking a little dishevelled at the back and Gavin Peers had to ride to the rescue more than once. O’Brien certainly worked hard to keep his opponents on their toes but the real damage was being done from midfield with both Brennans, Cassidy and O’Connor all proving effective at piling forward on the counter attack.
Sligo, to be fair, enjoyed more possession and knocked the ball around well at times but their penetration was poor with too many first-time balls and set pieces failing to reach their intended targets.
Sitting deep, Ndo struggled to have the desired effect from play through most of the game and Rovers relied instead upon Kieran Djilali to provide the creativity required to open up a disciplined Drogheda defence. On a couple of occasions, the Londoner looked to have pulled it off but United got by due to a mixture of hard work and discipline with Prendergast showing the way on both fronts.
His sending off seemed harsh given that, as captain, he was more entitled than most to be pursuing Tuite over the free kick and he was far from the most agitated of those who surrounded the match official close the halfway line. Things were evened up swiftly enough, though, when Peers went over awkwardly and looked to have badly hurt his right knee.
It was an unfortunate way for United to catch a break but they initially made the most of it. From a Cassidy free, Gavin Brennan should have scored but scuffed his shot after which Mick Daly’s headed follow up had to be cleared off the line by Elding. With the game in the third of eight added minutes, though, an angled ball forward by Cassidy paid greater dividends. Peter Hynes put Evan McMillan off as he sought to head clear and the ball ran to Ryan Brennan who finished well from close range.
Injury time loomed large but Sligo weren’t finished yet. Having gone quiet for quite a while, Djilali sprang back into life 90 seconds after the equaliser, darting almost to the line down the right and then sending in a cross that North chested down for Elding to finish sweetly on the turn.
The Sligo fans amongst the crowd of 17,573 went wild and in the frantic few minutes that followed North should really have had his hat-trick when the 26 -year-old skipped past the last Drogheda defender only to fire straight at Michael Schlingermann. It made no difference, though, for United simply couldn’t muster the goal they required to prevent Rovers taking the cup home for the third time in four years.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Schlingermann; Daly, McNally, Prendergast, Grimes; Byrne (O’Conor, 90 mins); Cassidy, R Brennan, O’Conor (Rusk, 77 mins), G Brennan; O’Brien.
SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers; Keane, Henderson (E McMillan, 65 mins), Peers, Davoren; Ndo, Ventre; Cretaro (North, 70 mins), Djilali, Greene (Gaynor, 84 mins); Elding.
Referee: P Tuite (Dublin).