It was only in the context of the 12 straight victories that came before that last week’s draw away to Galway United was a poor result, and City proved that there was no erosion of confidence with a sparkling display. If the final score flattered anyone, it was the visitors.
City had begun on the front foot and pressed hard before Jimmy Keohane opened the scoring in the 11th minute. By the 24th, they were four to the good and any murmurings of the beginning of a slump had been firmly silenced.
So dominant were they that two-goal hero Karl Sheppard didn’t even sound like he was exaggerating when he said that it “could have been seven, eight, nine”.
“We were good in the first half,” he said, “but we’d be unhappy with how we played in the second half. There’ll be games where you’ll only get one or two chances and you have to take them.”
Ruthless talk, and what makes this all the more impressive from City was that the three points were gained without injured duo Gearóid Morrissey and Steven Beattie and the suspended Conor McCormack, who was the Soccer Writers’ P layer of the Month for April. Emphasising the strength in depth, Alan Bennett, Greg Bolger, and Keohane came into the side without weakening it.
Garry Buckley and Stephen Dooley both went close in the early stages as a series of corners were forced before the opener. From a Kevin O’Connor throw, Dooley found Keohane in the area and he produced a smart low left-footed finish.
Buckley could have added another after that, shooting wide after a nice move, but they didn’t have long to wait for the second. Buckley found John Dunleavy — moved to right-back to replace Beattie — on the right and his whipped cross was beautifully flicked in at the near post by Seán Maguire for his 14th goal of the season, his 12th in the league.
That initiated a flurry, with Sheppard getting in the act as he drove in from the right before firing in from a tight angle, and the celebrations had scarcely stopped when he got his second and City’s fourth.
Dunleavy and Maguire combined to get the ball to Sheppard on the right of the area and he showed vision to chip the ball over a stranded Stephen McGuinness in Drogheda’s goal. Even then, they could have had more before half-time, with Maguire and Keohane having chances.
Maguire was the one who went closest on the resumption. Within two minutes, Keohane’s excellent through ball gave him a chance but McGuinness was quick off his line to deny him, and then Dooley’s cross was met by him but his header was just the wrong side of the post.
When the fifth did come just after the hour-mark, it was Maguire who got it, with a low shot to the corner after he played a smart one-two with Dooley. Buckley’s pass gave him a chance of a hat-trick but he fired over and sub Shane Griffing was off target too while another replacement, Achille Campion, was denied by McGuinness.
City finished with 10 men as Garry Buckley came off with a tight hamstring after all three subs were used, but Drogheda couldn’t make much of the numerical advantage, with sub Seán Thornton’s curling shot wide from 20 yards their best effort.
“Did we?” was Buckley’s response when told after the game by the media that City had extended their lead at the top. Focus has remained on the task at hand and nothing else.
Next up is a trip to Sligo Rovers on Monday night, as City seek to extend their unbeaten run to 15 games. Sheppard was asked when the run will end; his response was: “Why does it have to?”
McNulty; Dunleavy, Bennett (Griffin 54), Delaney, O’Connor; Bolger, Keohane; Sheppard (Ellis 62), Buckley, Dooley (Campion 66); Maguire.
McGuinness; Elworthy (Dunne half-time), Gallagher, McGuigan, Kane; K Brennan, Purdy (Thornton 42); Wixted, Hyland (S Brennan 74), G Brennan; Griffin.
S Grant (Wexford).