You do not expect to be prompted to wonder if you had already witnessed game-of-the-season in March, some seven days after the start of the 2013 Airtricity League campaign. However, those who braved the elements in the bitterly cold conditions at Hunky Dorys Park tonight will reflect on their experience and wonder if it will be trumped by any other this season.
While Hunky Dorys Park is unlikely to play host to a more eventful 90 minutes this season, it was, however, not one for connoisseurs of the beautiful game, nor will it have been cherished by either manager, but with four goals, four penalties and three dismissals it is difficult to argue that Drogheda United’s clash with Limerick did not have it all by way of entertainment.
Fabio O’Brien’s 87th minute penalty spared the home team a humiliating defeat at the hands of Limerick who played with purpose, brio, and nine-men for some 17 minutes following the dismissal of Axel Bossekota.
‘Boss’ by name, the 23-year-old was proving boss by nature for large spells of the game, his lightening pace coupled with a nimble ability in possession proved problematic for Drogheda but, following an altercation with David Cassidy, the Belgian was duly red-carded. His manager, former Drogheda United midfielder Stuart Taylor, could not offer a lecture after the final whistle, nor could senior team-mate Aaron Browne, both of whom were also dismissed.
Beyond the entertainment factor of the 90 minutes, though, lies the grim reality that Mick Cooke’s Drogheda United did not know how to capitalise on the significant advantage afforded them by an impressive, yet ill-disciplined Limerick side. Their failure to adapt to their advantage tactically only served to underline the lack of a plan-b in a one-dimensional, flaccid Drogheda team.
Fabio O’Brien, operating centrally instead of the injured Gary O’Neill, seemed to run into the same difficulties O’Neill had last week at Richmond Park, his influence limited through isolation.
The club’s record goalscorer was on hand, however, to give the home team an early advantage when Limerick midfielder Joe Gamble was adjudged to have handled in the area, denying David Cassidy a goalscoring opportunity. O’Brien stepped up and rifled his penalty down the middle of the net.
It would not be the last time O’Brien would be faced with Limerick keeper Barry Ryan from 12 yards, nor would it be the last time referee Graham Kelly would be faced with making a key decision.
The away side responded well to going behind with Axel Bossekota, in particular, beginning to menace down the Drogs flanks. The speedy forward was proving a handful for the home defence and, after a strong solo effort, the Belgian let fly from an acute angle but Sava was equal to his shot. The former Motherwell striker then capitalised on a slip from Alan Byrne deep in his own half but his shot was well blocked by Shane Grimes who deputised in the absence of captain Derek Prendergast.
Right on the stroke of half-time, the away side equalised. The towering figure of Aaron Browne had wriggled free in the area and nodded parity to the scoreline, much to the delight of manager Stuart Taylor who aimed his celebrations at the fourth official who had previously refused to entertain his pleas for a penalty.
Limerick emerged the stronger team for the second half and came within half-a-metre of going ahead when Shane Tracy drilled narrowly wide from a free-kick. Down the other end, a defensive mix-up acted as the catalyst for one of the game’s talking-points.
Fabio O’Brien anticipated well to run on to a feeble headed back-pass by Steve Folan. The Drogheda United forward was then believed to have been bundled over in the area by the lumbersome Aaron Browne and referee Kelly once again pointed the spot and dismissed Browne, much to the fury of Stuart Taylor who soon suffered the same fate by launching a verbal attack on both referee and fourth official.
However, O’Brien saw his penalty saved by Ryan this time, to the delight of the Limerick dugout who believed justice had been done.
Despite the numerical advantage, Drogheda were on the back foot and courtesy of a mazy solo run by Danny Galbraith, the home team were left rueing the missed opportunity when Galbraith was fouled in the area and Shane Tracy dispatched the penalty with consumate ease.
Peter Hynes was thrown into the fray by Mick Cooke and Drogheda soon went 4-4-2 but the away defence routinely refuted anything coming via route one and Cooke’s team were looking fresh out of ideas.
However, a moment of stupidity from Axel Bossekota gave the Boynesiders’ a fresh impetus to find a leveller when the Belgian sparked a melee between the teams by nudging his head into David Cassidy. Bossekota then followed Browne down the tunnel.
Drogheda threw everything but the kitchen sink forward in the dying stages and found a way through when Ryan Brennan was fouled in the area, leaving referee Graham Kelly with no option but to award a fourth penalty of the night. O’Brien stepped up and this time made no mistake in his conversion, opting for precision over power to pass it beyond Ryan from the spot.
United briefly rallied in search for a winner but it was too little too late. Taylor will undoubtedly leave the happier of the two managers, while Mick Cooke has much to ponder ahead of next Tuesday’s clash with Derry in the Brandywell.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Brian Gannon, Shane Grimes, Alan Byrne, Michael Daly (Peter Hynes 64); Ryan Brennan, David Cassidy (Graham Rusk 88), Paul O’Conor (Eric Foley 64), Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien.
Subs not used: Micheal Schlingermann, Stephen Quigley, Dean Gaynor, Jason Marks.
Yellow Cards: Brian Gannon.
Limerick FC: Barry Ryan; Patrick Nzuzi, Aaron Brown, Steve Folan, Robbie Williams; Shane Tracy, Joe Gamble, Dave O’Leary, Danny Galbraith (Steve McGann 79); Craig Curran, Axel Bossekota
Subs not used: Shane Cusack, Jonathan Tiffoney, Shane Costello, Barry Sheedy, Darragh Rainsford, Brian O’Callaghan
Yellow Cards: Joe Gamble
Red Cards: Aaron Brown, Stuart Taylor, Axel Bossekota.