by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United continued their excellent recent run of form as they held league leaders Dundalk to a 1-1 draw in a compelling Louth derby at United Park.
Dundalk took the lead on 19 minutes as top scorer Pat Hoban powered a header into the far corner of the goal but the Lilywhites’ joy was shortlived as Gary O’Neill fired a spectacular drive into the roof of the net.
Both sides started the game unchanged from their respective wins last week; Drogheda putting four goals past UCD without reply while the Lilywhites grinded out a crucial 2-1 victory away to their nearest rivals Cork City.
The hosts started the game on the front foot and forced a corner within the opening minute as Gavan Holohan’s delivery found Michael Daly free in the penalty area only for the midfielder’s first time shot to be quickly blocked.
Undefeated in twelve games, Dundalk began to cut through the home side with ease as Chris Shields’ diagonal ball found Darren Meenan, and the former Drogheda man rounded Micheál Schlingermann, but his effort from a tight angle was gathered by the recovering goalkeeper.
Schlingermann was in action again on ten minutes as Andy Boyle connected with Meenan’s corner but his goal bound header was deflected into the grateful path of the Mayo man.
Swift one-touch football down the left from the visitors created their next opening on goal as Dane Massey’s lofted ball found Kurtis Byrne in acres of space and his shot was blocked on the goal line by the recovering Ciaran McGuigan.
Drogheda’s luck was to eventually run out as Hoban evaded the attention of his marker from Meenan’s corner to head the ball past Schlingermann from eight yards.
The old football adage of you are at your most vulnerable when you have just scored was to ring true as straight from kickoff, United worked the ball into the box and O’Neill turned Boyle to smash a stunning, rising effort high into the goal.
The Boynesiders almost completed a remarkable turnaround moments later when McGuigan got on the end of Holohan’s deep set piece but he failed to keep his header on target.
Dundalk were to fritter away two excellent chances to regain the lead before the break as Daryl Horgan diverted Sean Gannon’s cross wide from only a couple of yards out and Gannon found space down the right again but he shot into the side netting much to the frustration of his teammates.
Both Brennan and Holohan were to send speculative efforts wide of goal shortly after the interval and on 55 minutes, clever interplay between O’Neill and Holohan found Cathal Brady on the edge of the box and the winger’s first time volley was beaten away by Peter Cherrie.
The table toppers still carried a significant goal threat and Byrne should have done better with his free kick from 22 yards after Brennan was adjudged to have fouled Richie Towell.
There was a shortage of goal scoring chances as the game drew to a close with both sides struggled for midfield dominance but Drogheda nearly grabbed a winner deep into the stoppage time as McGuigan’s header bounced narrowly beyond the far post.
The result reduces Dundalk’s lead at the top to four points while the Boynesiders continue their march up the table as they travel to eight place Bohemians next week full of confidence.
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will be intent on derailing the title challenge of their fiercest rivals Dundalk as the sides meet Friday at United Park, kickoff 8pm.
A massive 28 points separate the teams but they are both in fine form with Drogheda having won three of their last four while Dundalk are undefeated in twelve games.
United recorded their biggest win of the season last week as they put four goals past struggling UCD as goals from Gavin Brennan, Cathal Brady and a double from Gary O’Neill put the gloss on Damien Richardson’s first game in charge.
“I was expecting a high calibre performance from the players but the result did exceed my expectations,” the new boss admitted. “I can see the merits in the team and I was hoping that if we could improve the tempo that it would lead to a better performance. You’re in the laps of the gods when it comes to goals and I was delighted for Gary O’Neill to score twice as he was excellent in the lone forward role. When the goals flow like that it can be surprising but always very welcome.”
The result leaves the Boynesiders in eighth in the table, level on points with Bohemians in seventh, as they aim to start the final series of matches on a positive note. In order to achieve this, Richardson has urged his players to fulfill their potential as a team and to give what he considers ‘the best side in the league’ a stern examination.
“Confidence is high amongst the players as it has been a very optimistic week for all involved with Drogheda. The players are starting to realise that they are capable of special performances, both individually and collectively, but what they need to augment is the individual demands that they place on themselves. That is imperative when the opposition is of a higher class like Dundalk. I would love to see a similar style of performance as last week against what is the best side in the league.”
Paul Andrews will return from suspension for United after missing the last four games but Stephen Maher remains doubtful as he recovers from injury.
As for Dundalk, they come into the game six points clear of their nearest challengers Cork City, who they defeated 2-1 at Turner’s Cross last Friday.
Stephen Kenny’s men will be without captain Stephen O’Donnell, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, while Simon Kelly is rated as doubtful with a calf complaint.
The Lilywhites humiliated Drogheda in the last Louth derby as they scored seven without reply but United Park is one of only two grounds that the table toppers have lost at in this campaign and the 66 year old Dubliner is eager to recreate the events of the opening night of the season.
“Dundalk mix the game up well; they can go long to their centre forwards but they also play good football. Above all else, I think it is their excellent work ethic that makes them such a strong side but not many clubs like coming to Drogheda. The tight pitch and the close proximity of the crowd makes it a very special place and we must make it a fortress.
“A positive result to me has to come from a positive performance. The real demand from me is that we produce a positive display every week and if someone can beat us at our best then good luck to them.”
Michael Daly (Peter McGlynn 79)
Gary O’Neill (Declan O’Brien 90 +2).
Kurtis Byrne (Donal McDermott 71)
Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 84).
Gary O’Neill (20)
Patrick Hoban (19)
Carl Walshe (44)
Gavan Holohan (54)
Gavin Brennan (60)
Brian Gartland (30)
Donal McDermott (83)