Sligo Crowned League Champions

Match report: Sligo Rovers 3-2 St Patrick’s Athletic

By Darragh Farrelly at The Showgrounds

AN 89th MINUTE penalty from Sligo Rovers striker Mark Quigley gave Sligo Rovers their first league title since 1977 in front of 5,621 at The Showgrounds.

In what was billed as the league decider, the two best sides in the country did not disappoint, playing out a thrilling 3-2 in what was a truly magnificent advertisement for the league.

Sligo started the much quicker of the two sides and had the lions share of possession. A must win game for Pats became a much stiffer task when they fell behind to two quick fire goals courtesy of Raf Cretaro.

The first on 22 minutes was a thing of class from the Tubbercurry man. A neat pass inside from Pascal Millien into Cretaro saw the striker beat Ian Bermingham on the edge of the box with a bit of skill, before neatly slotting the ball past an oncoming Barry Murphy.

Before the visitors could catch their breath, they found themselves 2-0 down. An in-swinging corner from Ross Gaynor met Gavin Peers at the near post who helped it onto to Cretaro who was unmarked at the back post. The Sligo native, who turns 31 this Tuesday, had the simplest of tasks and nodded the ball into an empty net. The goal was the front man’s fifth in the last six games.

The midfield trio of Carroll, Bolger and Chambers for Pats lacked a little bit of intensity in the first half, and were unable to get a foothold in the game. The usual marauding full-backs of Bermingham and O’Brien seemed hesitant to push on, with the threat of Millien, Creataro and Quigley in particular looming.

The Saints did enjoy a decent spell of possession just before the break. Chances for Chris Forrester and Christy Fagan’s free kick never really troubled the ex-Pats Man Gary Rogers in the Sligo goal.

Liam Buckley’s introduction of Vinny Faherty at half-time for Greg Bolger signalled his intentions to add more attacking potency, and it seemed to work immediately.

Sean O’Connor was perhaps harshly denied a penalty kick on 47 minutes after going down from a tackle from Jason McGuinness. The tricky winger nicked the ball past the centre half who rather hastily brought the Pats man down. Referee Damien Hancock adjudged O’Connor to have dived, and as a result was shown a yellow card.

Sligo perhaps looked a touch shaky in the opening stages of the second half despite their two goal cushion.

Pats piled on the pressure, pinning the league leaders in their own half, and that pressure got its just desserts eight minutes into the second half.

A sweet strike from Christy Fagan on 53 minutes gave the travelling contingent a ray of hope. A Sean O’Connor ball into the box was fortuitously headed into his path by Danny Ventre. The front man took one touch to get ball out of his feet before blasting it past Rogers in the Sligo goal.

O’Connor’s influence on the game grew as the second half progressed, and on 58 minutes, he came within a whisker of equalising. A dangerous free kick was beautifully hit and beat Rogers in the Sligo goal, but not the post.

Pats didn’t have to wait long for their second. Chris Forrester made it all square on the hour mark with a deflected effort from 25 yards. Quick thinking from Sean O’Connor played the ball into the path of Forrester whose effort took a nick off Ross Gaynor to take it past a hapless Rogers.

Credit to the home side, who sustained Pats’ extended period of pressure. Playmaker Joseph Ndo was not at his imperious best despite his efforts. Despite his wizardry, his 34 year old seemed to lag in the pace of the game.

Substitute Anto Flood was Buckley’s last throw of the dice and came oh so close to nicking a winner five minutes after coming on. The lanky striker showed quick feet to give himself half a yard, before rattling the Sligo bar with a curling effort poised for the top corner.

Sligo Rovers were massively under the cosh in the closing stages. Some excellent work by Cretaro and Quigley gave Sligo some much needed breathing space as the game drew to a close. It was in fact great work by Quigley that gave Sligo a corner.

The resulting corner was met by Gavin Peers who headed the ball onto Conor Kenna. Linesman Damien McGrath adjudged the Pats man to handle the ball in what was an extremely harsh call.

Despite the protestations of the Pats players, the decision stood. Sligo’s talisman and Man Of The Match Mark Quigley made no mistake from 12 yards, beautifully tucking it into the corner to give Sligo Rovers the league title.

The game rather ended on a sour note with the dismissal of Sean O’Connor and Sligo captain Danny Ventre for a confrontation that seem more handbags at dawn than deserving of two red cards.

Pats can take massive positives from their second half display, and with a Cup final to come, they may not end the season empty handed. The spirit they showed to fight from two goals down well put them in good stead ahead of the November 4th showdown with Derry City at the Aviva.

Massive plaudits must be paid to Ian Baraclough and the job that he has done with Sligo Rovers. Speaking after the game, he added “this is the stuff you dream of. We set our stall out at the year and this was the goal. Massive credit must be paid to Pats, they were the much better side in the second half, but thankfully we got the right result.”

Man Of The Match Mark Quigley did admit that he felt a huge amount of pressure on the spot kick which ultimately decided the destination of the title. “Yeah, I did feel (pressure) it. But these are the things you aspire for growing up playing football, and thank God I put it away.”

Liam Buckley as full of praise for counterpart Baraclough and his Sligo side. “Ian has done a terrific job since arriving here on such short notice before the season opener. We’ve been playing catch up all season to them and unfortunately we just couldn’t bridge the gap. Well done to them, they deserve it.”

Rovers have been the best side in the country all year and are fully deserving of being called league champions. Having only lost once all season, nobody can begrudge them of this. The game as a whole was enthralling, and a true justification of where these tow sides stood in the league table before kick-off.

Mark Quigley was a constant threat throughout, and it was perhaps poignant that he was the man to bring the title back to the West. In Gavin Peers, they have the best centre half in the country, and one would wonder why he has not made the trek across the pond thus far.

With two games still to play, it may be contested that Pats were rather hard done by. In truth and despite all the mathematical implications, a draw for Sligo would have done anyway.

Referee: Damien Hancock

Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers, Jeff Henderson (David Cawley 54), Gavin Peers, Jason McGuinness, Ross Gaynor, Lee Lynch, Danny Ventre, Joseph Ndo (Liam Buchanan 85), Pascal Millien (John Dillon 76), Mark Quigley, Raffaele Cretaro.

St Patrick’s Athletic: Barry Murphy, Ger O’Brien, Conor Kenna, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham, James Chambers (John Russell 70), Jake Carroll, Greg Bolger (Vinny Faherty 45), Chris Forrester (Anto Flood 79), Christy Fagan, Sean O’Connor.

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