SHAMROCK Rovers boss Michael O'Neill has praised his players for keeping their focus on the job of retaining their league title as the Hoops head into a season-defining period.
Sligo Rovers showed their intent by hammering bottom side Galway United 7-1 on Saturday night, thus moving three points ahead of the Hoops, but O'Neill's side rejoined them at the top of the table by beating Drogheda United 4-0 yesterday.
Goals from Karl Sheppard and Ciaran Kilduff gave Rovers a 2-0 lead at half-time, while Billy Dennehy and Gary O'Neill added further goals.
Sligo can edge ahead once again if they can win their next game, at home to a struggling Dundalk side tomorrow night, before Rovers take on Bohemians on Wednesday.
"The players kept their focus and did what they had to do," said Hoops boss O'Neill after yesterday's win.
"We had numerous opportunities to score, it was 4-0 and it could have been double. It's another win out of the way and it maintains the situation at the top of the table. We will be three points ahead if we can win our game in hand.
"At the end of the next three league games, we could be in a very good position. But all the teams will have a part to play, even Dundalk who play Sligo tomorrow," added O'Neill, who held a training session yesterday for the players who were rested for the game.
"We have a big game on Wednesday against Bohemians, and the league position only adds to that. The reality is that our focus at the minute is to make sure that the players are right to play on Wednesday, hence the likes of Gary Twigg, Stephen O'Donnell and Ronan Finn training afterwards. We have to give them some time to keep minds and bodies fresh, the players know what's at stake."
O'Neill used a much-changed side with six switches to the side which lost to Tottenham in the Europa League last week and those who came in, such as Sheppard, Kilduff and sub O'Neill, underlined the strength of the Rovers squad as Euro stars such as Twigg and Stephen Rice were rested.
Sheppard headed Rovers in front on 23 minutes from a Rohan Ricketts corner and just before the break Kilduff made it 2-0. Dennehy netted from the penalty spot after Brian Gannon fouled Kilduff in the box and O'Neill got the fourth from a Dennehy cross.