Pat’s back in the big time after win over Sligo secures league title

Goals from Greg Bolger and Anto Flood enough to see off outgoing champions

 

St Patrick’s Athletic 2 Sligo Rovers 0: The guy in charge of the music at Richmond Park seemed anxious to get the celebrations started early yesterday where Ian Baraclough might well have used the sound of the Champions League theme and Queen’s We Are The Champions drifting through the dressing room door at half-time for motivational purposes. Had the resulting pep talk worked, those present might have been telling their grandkids about the time St Patrick’s tempted fate and paid the price. Instead, there’ll only be fond memories for the locals who saw the Inchicore outfit clinch its eighth league title and its first in 14 years.

Liam Buckley and his men had known since Saturday night that three points here would do them but then Sligo arrived needing a win themselves if they were to keep the defence of their title alive for at least another week. Somehow, though, the fact that both sides seemed to be going so ferociously for victory through the opening exchanges still seemed surprising.

Either of them might have taken the lead, but it was Rovers who probably went closer. Evan McMillan really should have done more with his headed attempt just four minutes in after Aaron Greene had done so well to pick him out, but the ball flew straight to Brendan Clarke, who was then a little fortunate not to spill a Kieran Djilali shot all the way into Danny North path a few minutes later.

Anchor
Gradually, though, it was the home side that began to get on top as the contest wore on, with Greg Bolger anchoring the midfield as effectively as he had done in any game this season, and the four behind lone striker Anto Flood all causing problems at different times for the visitors.

Somewhat remarkably, it was Bolger who delivered the breakthrough when he capitalised on a poor defensive clearance to take a touch then plant the ball in the top left corner. The crowd went wild but the midfielder looked almost bewildered. Afterwards, he admitted: “I shanked it and didn’t even see it go in, I only knew it had from the reaction of the crowd. I couldn’t believe it really, it’s my first goal of the season. Liam kept telling me to shoot more but every time I did the ball seemed to hit the corner flag.”

Long ball
Within 10 minutes it was 2-0 with the ball fed back to Clarke, after Rovers, not for the first time, had failed to pick out North with a long ball forward. The goalkeeper swiftly got things going down the right where John Russell was allowed to race all the way to line before pulling a low ball back for Anto Flood to side-foot home from a few yards.

“It was a wonder goal for the opener,” said a disappointed Baraclough amid the home side’s celebrations afterwards. “But it was important then that you don’t get done too soon afterwards for the second. We switched off, though, and left them get it with a tap in. It happens, but we’d been the better side over the first half an hour and we asked for more of the same in the second half . . . unfortunately we just weren’t good enough.”

His side did have a couple of chances with Clarke having to make a fine double save from Alan Keane and then David Cawley. With six minutes remaining, Bolger rounded off an outstanding display by hooking the ball off his own line.

Really, though, it was the hosts who looked more likely to score again and they would have, had Gary Rogers not done really well to deny Killian Brennan or Conan Byrne and Flood put away good chance. In the end, of course, it didn’t matter.

“I’m relieved to some degree,” said Liam Buckley through a broad smile when asked a little later how he felt. “Over the last few weeks every game was sort of a must win but the lads have stood up well to it. They dug in in UCD and Bray and stuck to their principles; they got a great win over Dundalk here and I’m proud of them again tonight.”

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