With the Hoops trailing Sligo by a 13 points at kick off, it was imperative the Dublin Rovers opened brightly, but it was the champions who created the first chance in the second minute as Anthony Elding shot wide following an inviting low cross from Pascal Millien.
The five points dropped in two consecutive games against St Patrick’s Athletic and Drogheda United seemed not to dent Sligo’s confidence as they continued impressively, with Joseph Ndo prompting intelligently in midfield.
The monotony was finally broken in the 26th minute when from a brief flurry of activity, both Ronan Finn and James Chambers were denied in quick succession following well-timed blocks from Evan McMillan and Alan Keane.
That seemed to reignite the home challenge and after Ndo was dispossessed on the halfway line in the 34th minute, Gary McCabe released Sheppard out wide, but Stephen Rice’s resultant shot from 12 yards was easily saved by Gary Rogers.
Ndo’s role as defensive shield in front of his back four was further questioned as the hosts built up a head of steam with Daniel Ledwith firing narrowly over from 25 yards.
The pressure was maintained up until the interval with McCabe spurning the clearest chance of the half as he shot straight at Rogers in the 41st minute after an
intelligent cut back from Sheppard had presented the winger with a clear shot on goal from 12 yards.
The second half resumed in a similar vein, with the Hoops on the front foot and after McCabe and Sheppard had combined cleverly in the 51st minute, Ronan Finn’s ensuing shot from the edge of the area arrowed agonisingly wide of Rogers’ left-hand upright.
The hosts were left to rue their profligacy as Sligo opened the scoring in bizarre fashion when Barry Murphy’s misdirected clearance rebounded off Ledwith, with David Cawley taking full advantage with a precise finish in the 56th minute.
That undeserved lead was almost doubled within five minutes as Elding, who struggled to make an impression for the large part, produced a sublime effort that flew inches wide with Murphy stranded.
Sligo looked threatening on the counter-attack, but after Ciaran Kilduff had worked wonders in dispossessing Alan Keane, Jason McGuinness headed Sean O’Connor’s cross into the path of Sheppard, who nodded home from close range.
Matters deteriorated for the visitors when Elding was dismissed for a rash challenge on Rice.
In fact, Sligo were fortunate to leave Dublin with a point as Kilduff’s injury-time header struck the upright with keeper Rogers well beaten.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy; Sullivan, Foran, McGuinness, Ledwith; McCabe, Rice, Finn, Chambers (Kilduff 78), Dennehy (O’Connor 78); Sheppard.
SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers; Keane, Peers, McMillan, Greene; Millien (Henderson 90), Ndo (Ventre 75), Lynch, Cawley, Connolly (Djilali 46); Elding.
Referee: Alan Kelly (Cork).