Having won more points from losing positions than anybody else in the Airtricity League of Ireland so far this season, Drogheda United have been specialising in snatching points from the jaws of defeat as of late.
Tonight at Oriel Park, however, Mick Cooke’s side were given a taste of their own medicine as Drogheda spurned the opportunity to secure the local bragging rights by throwing away a two-goal lead late on against Dundalk in the first Louth derby of the season.
With some 20 miles separating both clubs in geography, it was a night of history at Oriel Park this evening. It was the 150th competitive meeting between the rivals and, courtesy of two goals in the space of a minute from Dundalk’s Keith Ward and John Dillion, the duo ensured this local derby had the fireworks on-the-field to match those that had illuminated the Louth skyline prior to kick-off.
It was, however, a sluggish start to mark the 50-year rivalary for the home team and it was the Drogs, fresh off-the-back of their first victory of the season last week, who had started the brighter and came within inches of drawing first-blood when Ryan Brennan saw his volley come crashing off the frame of the goal.
The close shave sparked Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk into life and a rare mistake from Drogheda United stalwart Alan Byrne nearly gifted the home side the advantage when Byrne’s misplaced pass found Darren Meenan but his effort whistled wide of Gabriel Sava’s post.
As the minutes increased, so too did Drogheda’s confidence levels and their pressure soon yielded results. Eric Foley’s free-kick into the Dundalk box was cleared to David Cassidy whose drilled effort was turned home by Graham Rusk in the 19th minute. Dundalk claimed offside but the goal stood.
Mick Cooke watched his team dominate for the remainder of the half. It was relentless pressure by the visiting team, the like of which Drogheda could be accused of lacking thus far this season, yet the familiar lack of a killer-instinct was evident. The failure to create clear-cut chances had cost Drogheda dear in previous outings. Tonight, it was a failure to convert them.
Fabio O’Brien spurned two opportunities prior to half-time to effectively bring down the curtain on the sesquicentennial occasion; firstly when his header was expertly saved by Dundalk ‘keeper Peter Cherrie, then, with the goal at his mercy, the forward failed to angle his header goalward and his effort flew narrowly wide.
The away team emerged from the break revitalised and Stephen Kenny’s pep-talk had proved beneficial. Meenan began to threaten through the heart of Drogheda’s defence but his effort failed to really trouble Gabriel Sava. The home side then began to menace but Alan Byrne, swiftly establishing himself as the bedrock of Drogheda’s defence this season, proved key in restricting a lively Dundalk attack.
However, with 20 minutes to go, United doubled their lead. If Rusk’s first half strike was just rewards for Drogheda’s opening 45 minutes, then their second was against the run-of-play.
Former Dundalk hero David Cassidy played a superb cross into the box before the unmarked Ryan Brennan headed home to give Drogheda a cushion. The joy, however, was shortlived for Brennan who was replaced by Paul O’Connor moments later in what appeared to be a hamstring injury for the goalscorer.
With a two-goal advantage and 20 minutes to play, you could be forgiven for believing Drogheda had done enough to secure the points. However, as the travelling Drogs’ fans will give testament to, nothing is straight-forward with their team, especailly in a local derby.
Five minutes later, Dundalk were given a glimmer of hope with Keith Ward’s superbly executed free-kick beating the helpless Sava and, directly from the kick-off, Dundalk won possession and Towell deployed a long-ball which ended up with Tiarnán Mulvenna. The former Drogheda United favourite was brought down in the area by Alan Byrne who was duly dismissed by referee Padraig Sutton. John Dillon stepped up and cooly sent the ball beyond Sava. Game on.
Moments later, Kurtis Byrne looked set to capitalise further on the punchdrunk state of Drogheda but, despite being through on goal, he could not keep his effort underneath the crossbar. John Sullivan then thought he had stolen all three points in injury-time but his effort was well-saved by the feet of Sava.
Referee Padraig Sutton whistled for full-time in a game that had began as your average, run-of-the-mill League of Ireland clash, but soon developed into a local derby befitting its history.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter, Andy Boyle, Chris Shields (John Sullivan 46), Dane Massey; John Dillon, John Mountney (Keith Ward 66), Richie Towell, Darren Meenan (Vinny Faherty 83); Kurtis Byrne; Tiarnan Mulvenna.
Subs unused: Aaron Shanahan (GK), Eoghan Osborne, Patrick Hoban, Stephen McDonnell.
Yellow Cards: Massey (48), Mulvenna (80)
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Alan Byrne, Brian Gannon, Shane Grimes; Ryan Brennan (, David Cassidy, Eric Foley, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien (Peter Hynes 81), Graham Rusk (Philip Hand 79).
Subs unused: Michael Schlingermann (GK), Alan McNally, Paul O’Conor, Dean Gaynor, Jason Marks.
Yellow Cards: Alan Byrne(32)
Red Cards: Alan Byrne (76)
Referee: Padraig Sutton.