Fourth-placed Shamrock Rovers moved four points ahead of Derry and built up to Thursday’s Europa League test against Icelandic Stjarnan in style by hammering Drogheda last night.
All the goals came in the second half, with Gary Shaw and Trevor Clarke firing the hosts two goals ahead, a lead that was soon halved by Sean Brennan.
Substitutes Aaron Bolger and James Doona completed the rout with two more goals in the final 10 minutes.
In contrast to plenty of their previous games at home, Rovers started on fire and could have been two goals to the good within five minutes.
Towering defender Roberto Lopes was first to threaten from a corner with a mere two minutes played, wriggling free from his marker eight yards out, only to power his header straight at Stephen McGuinness.
Drogheda’s porous defence, which had contributed to their winless run of eight games, were all at sea again a couple of minutes later, when O’Connor slipped Shaw through on goal and he was denied by the body of the Drogs goalkeeper from close range.
Pete Mahon has worked wonders on a tight budgets with various teams in the league over the years and he’s enough of a realist to know Drogheda’s best hopes of pilfering the higher-calibre sides is on the counter-attack.
It worked a treat for their meeting with Rovers in April, when they won at United Park and they almost gained some joy from their first chance at the 15th minute mark. Winger Mark Doyle tried to catch out Tomer Chencinski with a wicked shot, which the Rovers goalkeeper turned around the post and, from the resulting corner, Ryan McEvoy’s dipping volley came within inches of curling in.
While they also exposed Rovers from a breakaway on the half hour mark — Adam Wixted wasting a glorious chance in space 10 yards out by firing straight at the stopper — Drogheda still spent the remainder of the half camped within their own half.
O’Connor was left alone to poke his shot off the post, before Shaw also availed of space to try find the far corner with his stroked effort trickling marginally off-target.
The pair combined to full affect 20 seconds after the restart, as O’Connor’s chest-down allowed partner Gary Shaw to volley in the opener 20 seconds after the restart.
Clarke then continued his rich vein of form by charging clear on 64 minutes and slipping the ball between the legs of McGuinness.
There was a glimmer of hope for Drogs five minutes later when substitute Brennan was on hand to force home his shot from close-range, but that was as good as it got for them.
Slack defending by Drogs, however, allowed Doona turn and fire home with nine minutes left and teenager Bolger netted in the last minute with a low strike.
Even a late injury scare for Clarke didn’t dampen the occasion and he looks fit enough to enhance his reputation next week on the European stage.
Chencinski; Madden, Lopes, Webster, L Byrne; Miele, Finn, Connolly (Bolger 60), Clarke (Meenan 77); Shaw, O’Connor (Doona 66).
McGuinness; Deasy, Gallagher, McGuigan, Dunne (Kane 84); McEvoy, Purdy; Wixted, Elliott (S Brennan 36), Doyle; Masterson (Meaney 70).
S Grant (Wexford)
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