Derry City 2, Drogheda United 1
DERRY CITY tightened their grip on European qualification as they condemned Drogheda United to life back in the First Division after a short sojourn in the top flight.
A first win in three league outings for the Candystripes moved them to within a single point of third placed Shamrock Rovers with four games to go.
And with Limerick's elimination from the FAI Cup at the hands of Cork at the semi-final stage, fourth spot is now enough to ensure qualification for next season's Europa League.
Two goals in the space of 13 first half minutes from Conor McDermott and Ronan Curtis handed City the perfect start but Drogheda made a fight of the second half and added a late consolation through substitute, Mark Doyle before their relegation was confirmed.
Derry boss, Kenny Shiels deployed three at the back in an attacking formation as he desperately attempted to make amends for last week's 5-0 demolition at home to Bray and it reaped its rewards as they hit the front with just three minutes on the clock as they capitalised on a howler of a backpass.
Drogheda right-back, Conor Kane attempted to play it back to his keeper from inside his own area but the alert McDermott intercepted and rounded Stephen McGuinness before slotting home.
The home side doubled their lead on 13 minutes following a fantastic counter attack involving Barry McNamee and Rory Patterson.
Patterson sent McDermott scampering clear on the right and his pinpoint cross to the near post was poked into the net by Curtis - his eighth of the season!
Drogheda carved open the City defence on the half hour mark when Stephen Elliott sent Richie Purdy through on goal but Cole recovered superbly with a well-timed tackle to win the ball.
Moments later Derry wing-back, Ben Doherty slipped Curtis in behind the Drogs defence with a sublime pass but the City winger's side-footed effort was parried away by McGuinness.
Sean Brennan forced a decent save from Gerard Doherty on 41 minutes but his strike was at a good height for the Derry keeper who beat it away.
Barry McNamee, who netted a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture back in March, fizzed a free-kick narrowly over the crossbar while Patterson blasted over just before the interval.
Derry had a gilt-edged chance to increase their lead 60 seconds into the second half when Patterson whipped in a cross from the left but substitute, Lukas Schubert's wayward header went harmlessly over.
It was far from comfortable for the home side and Drogheda came close to reducing the deficit on the hour mark when Adam Wixted's dangerous cross was directed just wide of the near post by Aaron Barry.
Derry had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping out Shane Elworthy's header on 75 minutes with at terrific save.
At the other end McGuinness stood tall to parry away Ben Doherty's left footed strike from 25 yards. And the Drogs keeper did well to deny Harry Monaghan's close range downward header on 80 minutes from Nicky Low's free-kick.
McNamee weaved his way into the penalty area in the dying seconds but his strike hit the post before Drogheda sub, Mark Doyle added a late consolation but it was too little too late as the Co. Louth men made a swift return to the First Division.
Derry City: G. Doherty; C. McDermott (L. Schubert h-t), A. Barry, D. Cole, D. Jarvis; B. Doherty, H. Monaghan, N. Low, R. Curtis; B. McNamee; R. Patterson; Subs Not Used - E. Grimes, A. McEneff, J. Dolny, J. McIntyre, S. Todd, E. Toal.
Drogheda Utd: S. McGuinness; C. Deasy (M. Doyle 81), L. Buckley, D. Mulcahy, C, Kane; A. Wixted, S. Brennan, R. Purdy, S. Elworthy; R. McEvoy (J. Bayly,74); S. Elliott; Subs Not Used - K. Farragher, L. Gallagher, R. Masterson, J. Hollywood, D. Sweeney.
Referee - John McLoughlin (Roscommon)