By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United once again came within seconds of ending Limerick’s unbeaten run as the sides went head-to-head in a pulsating 3-3 draw at United Park.
Sean Brennan rewarded Drogheda’s bright start with the opener and they doubled their advantage just short of the hour mark through Gareth McCaffrey but Limerick immediately pulled one back via Paul O’Conor’s controversial strike.
United regained their two goal advantage on 70 minutes through Marc Griffin’s fine run but the leaders once again responded via Lee Lynch’s deflected strike before Aaron Greene headed in at the death to cruelly deny the Drogs a deserved three points.
Drogheda United manager Pete Mahon made one change from the side that won 1-0 at home to Cabinteely last week with recent signing Richie Purdy starting in place of Sean Thornton who dropped to the bench.
There was an intensity to Drogheda’s pressing straight from kick-off and they had the first shot on target inside the opening minute as Griffin’s strike from 20 yards was well held by Limerick goalkeeper Freddy Hall.
Griffin was finding space behind the Limerick midfield and he picked out the run of McCaffrey two minute later but his drive from a narrow angle was gathered by Hall at the second attempt.
The opener seemed inevitable and Drogheda got the goal their play deserved on 10 minutes as Brennan intercepted the ball before racing clear and he calmly slotted the ball home much to the delight of the home crowd.
Limerick, who had scored 66 league goals before kick-off, came close to equalising from their first attack as Greene got the better of Colm Deasy down the left and he cut the ball back for Lynch who fired the ball high over the bar from only 12 yards.
The hosts were cutting the Blues open at will for the majority of the first-half and it was only the impressive Hall that kept the score 1-0. A swift counter-attack from Drogheda saw the ball worked out to McCaffrey on the right and he cut inside before dragging a left foot shot narrowly wide of the far corner.
Griffin was the next to go close as he collected Brennan’s ball to feet before turning his man and firing goalwards though his rising effort was well held by the Bermudan international who produced a stunning save minutes later as he acrobatically tipped Brennan’s deflected strike away from goal.
The league leaders emerged early for the second-half and they started brightly as within three minutes John O’Flynn was played in behind the Drogheda backline with Kevin Farragher recovering to clear off the line.
Drogheda rode the storm and they doubled their advantage with an hour played as a sublime flick out on the touchline saw Griffin roast the Limerick full back and he picked out the onrushing McCaffrey who slotted the ball into the far corner to complete a superb team goal.
The home side’s joy was short-lived though as Limerick equalised in controversial fashion. A cross into the box was only half cleared to Lynch who struck a fizzing volley that clipped the inside of the post with O’Conor firing in the rebound despite appearing to be offside.
United didn’t let the setback deter them and they found a third on 68 minutes. A one-two between Griffin and Brennan saw the former dribble between the two Limerick centre backs before firing high into the roof of the net, capping an outstanding individual performance.
The scoring was far from over as Limerick threw players forward in desperation and they were given a lifeline on 80 minutes as Sean Kelly’s cross into the box found Lynch and his low strike took a deflection before nestling in the bottom corner.
A fine passing move from their own half nearly yielded the equaliser for the visitors as O’Flynn’s flick played Shane Duggan in on goal though his powerful strike was pushed behind by McGuinness.
Drogheda nearly sealed victory in stoppage time when a four on two breakaway saw substitute Liam Donnelly pick out Brennan unmarked in the area only for his goal bound strike to be cleared off the line.
With added time seemingly elapsed, Limerick were awarded a corner and a dangerous delivery from Duggan was met by Greene in a crowded six yard box and he headed beyond McGuinness for a share of the spoils and for an all too familiar feeling for Drogheda who were denied victory late on in the Markets Field earlier this season.
Despite the late blow, Pete Mahon and his side will take great belief from out playing the runaway leaders for most of the contest with attention now turning to a crucial encounter with fellow play-off hopefuls UCD next week.
Gareth McCaffrey (Liam Donnelly 89)
Jake Hyland (Sean Thornton 82)
Aaron Ashe (Derek Doyle 82)
Shane Tracy (Sean Russell 46)
Stephen Kenny (Chris Mulhall 46)