Second half substitute Shane McFaul consigned Drogheda United to a 1-0 defeat on the opening day of the season at Richmond Park on Friday.
The 26-year-old reacted quickest from a goalmouth scramble to prod home from close-range after Drogheda had failed to clear from a corner. “You’re not singing anymore” taunted the home supporters, but before St. Pats fans could break into a second verse, the travelling Drogs found their voice once more.
On the field, however, Drogheda United were not singing from the same hymn sheet.
The trio of Eric Foley, Paul O’Conor and Ryan Brennan struggled to assert themselves in midfield, culminating in striker Gary O’Neill cutting a lonely, isolated figure for large spells as the spearhead of Drogheda’s 4-5-1. On the flanks, Gavin Brennan and Fabio O’Brien produced industrious displays, though the amount of time spent without possession will worry Drogheda manager Mick Cooke.
The travelling Drogheda United fans were in high-spirits following the return of the season. Numerous banners decorated the away end, none more noticeable than one reading: “Sex and Drogs and Rock N Roll” and, keeping with the theme, there were some reasons to be cheerful for the Boynesiders as they made their way back up the M1; namely the performance of captain Derek Prendergast.
The 28-year-old was entrusted with the task of leading Drogheda United to further glory this season following the departure of former captain Paul Crowley to Shelbourne, and based on tonight’s performance, manager Mick Cooke will be confident he has chosen the right man.
Powerful, intelligent and commanding – Prendergast delivered a captain’s performance in the heart of Drogheda’s defence, alongside the equally impressive Alan Byrne. Courtesy of the wet conditions, however, the duo were the width of the post away from being culpable in an early concession when they both slipped, allowing Chris Forrester a free header but his effort clipped the outside of the woodwork.
Forrester was a regular threat to Drogheda throughout the first half, in particular to Fabio O’Brien who bundled him over deep in his own half, a bookable offence in ordinary circumstances but, having been cautioned a minute earlier, referee Alan Kelly afforded O’Brien the benefit of the doubt.
Chances were few and far between for the Boynesiders tonight. Paul O’Connor fired into the arms of Pats goalkeeper Brendan Clarke from an acute angle. Prendergast then rose highest from a corner but he failed to keep his effort under the crossbar. Equally, Pats had opportunities to go into half-time with a lead but Killian Brennan and Christy Fagan forced routine saves from Gabriel Sava in the Drogheda goal.
Drogheda United emerged from the break as the stronger team initially, reinvigorated by whatever Mick Cooke had said to them during halftime and good link-play between Foley and O’Neill forged the team’s first real chance of the game but O’Neill’s final ball let him down.
They were soon made pay when Shane McFaul tapped home from six yards after Drogheda failed to clear a corner, resulting in a scramble and McFaul was on hand to convert.
Drogheda threw everything forward in a bid to restore parity, but the Pats defence comfortably mopped up everything thrown at them in the dying stages.
Cooke will know a significant improvement is neccesary if his team are to scale the heights of last season.
Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke, Ger O’Brien, Connor Kenna, Kenny Browne (Jake Carroll 92), Ian Bermingham, Conan Byrne, John Russell, Greg Bolger (Shane McFaul 58), Chris Forrester, Killian Brennan, Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Patrick Jennings, Aidan Price, Anthony Flood, Jordan Keegan, Conor Murphy
Bookings: Greg Bolger, Ger O’Brien
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava, Michael Daly (Brian Gannon 69), Alan Byrne, Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes (Peter Hynes 81), Declan O’Brien (Graham Rusk 69), Ryan Brennan, Paul O’Conor, Gavin Brennan, Eric Foley, Gary O’Neill.
Subs not used: Micheal Schlingermann, Philip Hand, Jason Marks, Stephen Quigley.
Bookings: Declan O’Brien, Shane Grimes.