Drogheda United’s first Setanta cup game since 2008 ended in a thrilling 3-2 victory over IFA Premiership side Portadown at Hunky Dorys Park.
Goals from Ryan Brennan, Paul O’Conor and Gavin Brennan means Drogheda will take the slimmest of advantages to Shamrock Park for the second leg next Monday.
Mick Cooke started new signings Paul O’Conor and Gary O’Neill while Shane Grimes played his first competitive game since May with the remainder of the side being the core of last season’s title runners-up.
Despite Portadown being halfway through their season, it was the Drogs who asserted early dominance and they carved open the first opportunity within two minutes. A swift counter attack involving Brady and O’Neill put O’Conor through but his delicate chip sailed over the bar.
Five minutes later and the Drogs took the lead. A deep cross into the box from O’Neill fell to Quigley whose wayward shot was directed into the path of Ryan Brennan who riffled past McArdle to score the first goal of the 2013 Setanta cup.
Straight from kick-off, a peach of a pass from Foley put Brady clean through on the right wing however his cross was well dealt with by Ramsey.
United doubled their lead on the quarter hour mark, Gavin Brennan intercepted a square pass and played the ball into the feet of O’Neill whose perfect lay-off was fired into the bottom corner by O’Conor from 20 yards, the ex-UCD man scoring on his debut.
Indeed, Drogheda should have been out of sight on 18’ as Gary O’Neill ran past the final line of defence only to blaze over.
Portadown fired a warning shot on 24’ as old Drogheda nemesis Gary Twigg was played in by Murray only for Schlingermann to tip his volleyed effort wide for a corner.
The next attack proved more successful for Portadown as a long throw from Murray was headed up into the air with Aaron Burns winning the second ball to head high into the net from outside the six yard box for 2-1.
Momentum had now decidedly shifted in favour of the away side and they equalised on the stroke of half-time. Drogheda failed to clear the ball on two occasions and once Braniff worked a yard of space, he curled an unstoppable shot in off the underside of the bar, an entertaining first period ending all square.
A quiet start to the second half resulted in both sides relinquishing possession on several occasions and it was the Boynesiders who capitalised on a mistake. A poor pass from Chris Ramsey saw Ryan Brennan burst through midfield and he squared for brother Gavin who composed himself to slot past McArdle.
The game was nearly out of sight for Portadown when Gavin Brennan again forced a great save from McArdle while O’Conor failed to hit the target on the rebound.
Drogheda began to tire in the latter stages of the game but as Portadown pressed, United tried to hit them on the counter attack. Chances for substitutes O’Brien and Rusk were wasted as United squandered several chances to extend their lead.
The final whistle signalled a deserved victory for Drogheda but the tie is only at half-time with the second leg in Portadown next week.
Drogheda United Team: Michael Schlingermann, Stephen Quigley, Alan Byrne, Derek Prendergast ©, Shane Grimes, Cathal Brady (Graham Rusk 65’),Eric Foley, Paul O’Conor, Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan, Gary O’Neill (O’Brien 70’).
Subs Not Used: Gabriel Sava, Phillip Hand, Jason Marks, David Cassidy, Peter Hynes.
Portadown Team: Jamie McArdle, Ross Redman, Chris Ramsey, Andrew Burns, Garry Breen, Ciaran Rooney (Neil McCafferty 65’), Darren Murray, Sean Mackle (Tim Mouncey 65’), Aaron Burns, Gary Twigg, Kevin Braniff.
Subs Not Used: Okunaiya Okman, Mark Patton, Joseph McNeill, Richard Lecky, Ryan Burns.
Referee: Alan Kelly
Drogheda United.ie Man Of the Match: Ryan Brennan