By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United’s promotion hopes took a significant blow this evening as they lost 1-0 at home to Shelbourne in the first leg of the First Division promotion play-off at United Park.
James English headed the winner for the visitors midway through the first-half as Drogheda struggled to create clear-cut chances despite dominating possession.
Drogheda manager Tim Clancy named an unchanged side from the one that defeated Cobh Ramblers a fortnight ago as Luke Gallagher and Ciaran Kelly lined up at centre-back.
The Boynesiders threatened inside the opening minute as Sean Brennan released Jake Hyland down the left but the Drogheda captain’s cross was parried behind by Dean Delany.
A quick counter-attack from the visitors presented David O’Sullivan with a glorious opportunity but he was denied from close range by an instinctive save from Paul Skinner.
Shels took the lead on 25 minutes as Lorcan Fitzgerald’s in-swinging corner-kick was met by English who rose tallest to power a header into the roof of the net.
Drogheda thought they had been awarded a penalty just three minutes later when Chris Lyons was tripped in the penalty area by Derek Prendergast only for referee Ray Matthews to inexplicably wave away appeals and give a corner.
The visitors dropped deeper at the start of the second-half as they looked to protect their lead with Drogheda struggling for movement in the final third.
A speculative 30-yard free-kick from Sean Brennan was the closest Drogheda came to drawing level as they’ll know a much improved performance will be required at Tolka Park on Monday night.
Drogheda United: Paul Skinner; Colm Deasy, Luke Gallagher, Ciaran Kelly, Conor Kane; Sean Brennan, Jake Hyland, Richie Purdy; Gareth McCaffrey (William Hondermarck 82), Chris Lyons, Mark Doyle
Subs: Luca Gratzer, Kealan Dillon, Kevin Farragher, Janabi Amour, Lloyd Buckley, Rob Manley
Shelbourne: Dean Delany; John Ross Wilson, Derek Prendergast, Aidan Collins (Reece McEnteer 50), Lorcan Fitzgerald; Shane Farrell (Adam Evans 74), Mark Hughes, Alan Byrne; Karl Moore, David O’Sullivan, James English (Gavin Boyne 90)
Subs: Lee Steacy, James Brown, Patrick Kavanagh, Dayle Rooney