by Shane Callaghan
Jason Byrne spared Bray Wanderers’ blushes by smashing home a 93rd minute winner to deny nine-man Drogheda United a hard-fought point at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Mick Cooke’s men looked to have summoned the character required to claim a point after twice recovering from a goal deficit through talisman Declan O’Brien.
Captaining the side in the absence of skipper Derek Prendergast, O’Brien was superb in the opening exchanges alongside Peter Hynes as the focal point of Drogheda’s 4-4-2. The duo were proving a handful for their opposite numbers until Gabriel Sava’s dismissal after half-an-hour prompted Cooke to withdraw Hynes for substitute ‘keeper Micheal Schlingermann.
Some thirty minutes into his first of the league season, Hynes understood the sacrifice and proceeded to applaud the four corners of the stadium before exiting the field. Classy. His time will come again to prove his class under different circumstances.
10 minutes would elapse before the game presented its first real opportunity and it was Wanderers, somewhat against the run-of-play, who would open the scoring.
Jason Byrne found himself unmarked at the edge of the area before delightfully toe-poking past Gabriel Sava who was rooted to the spot. It was the 35-year-old’s 196th goal in Irish football. He celebrated it like it was his first. The celebrations, however, would be shortlived.
After coming off the bench to net twice against Derry City last week, Fabio O’Brien offered further reminders of his class with a spectacular volley to level proceedings just minutes later. It was a finish befitting of the intelligence shown by O’Brien in the build-up.
The club’s record goalscorer chased Gabriel Sava’s clearance with Wanderers defender Daire Doyle. O’Brien suddenly pulled up hoping Doyle would misjudge the bounce – which he did and Fabio unleashed a first-time volley from the edge of the box into the corner of the goal beyond ‘keeper Darren Quigley. Superb goal.
The Boynesiders rallied and nearly took a deserved lead when David Cassidy’s effort beat Quigley in the Bray goal but Dave Webster was well-placed on the line to clear the danger.
Then, some drama ensued.
Drogheda United goalkeeper Gabriel Sava was then shown a straight red card by referee Keith Callanan for appearing to handle outside the area.
The United stopper raced out of his area in an attempt to avert the danger following Alan Byrne’s loose backpass. Kieran Waters latched on to the mistake before firing a shot at Sava whose hand denied Waters’ effort. Correct decision by Callanan.
Substitute goalkeeper Michael Schlingermann had little to do until the dying stages of the first-half when he reacted well to deny Byrne’s flicked header which looked to be sailing into the corner.
With the home side beginning to make their advantage count, the halftime whistle will have been welcomed by Mick Cooke but, within a minute of the interval, the manager’s team-talk was wasted.
The Boynesiders, who had re-appeared the second half minutes earlier than their opponents, conceded straight from kick-off. Defender Michael Daly’s botched clearance ended up at the feet of Waters who somehow wriggled his way through the Drogheda United defence before squaring to Byrne who tapped into an empty net.
Cooke’s men were asked once again to respond and, despite being a man down, they found a way as they so often do.
Gavin Brennan surged down the right wing before firing a left-footed teaser across the face of goal and O’Brien was on-hand to tap home from close range. 2-2.
Wanderers enjoyed a wealth of possession but struggled to break down a Drogheda defence keen to learn from the mistakes of last week at Derry City.
Toward the end, though, there were signs of what was coming. Michael Daly lost concentration and gifted Jason Byrne the opportunity to win the game.
With some five minutes remaining, Byrne raced clear of the Drogheda United defence after picking up a careless pass from Daly but the 35-year-old could not steer his effort on target.
Later, O’Brien sent the travelling support briefly into raptures by putting the ball in the net but the linesman was quick to raise his flag for offside. O’Brien had no complaints.
David Cassidy then followed Sava down the tunnel after being given a second yellow card for chopping down Ismahil Akinade in a dangerous area as he galloped toward goal.
Cassidy, furious at the decision, trudged away while Drogheda United dugout and supporters faced a nervous wait to see if Cassidy’s concession of the free-kick would prove costly. It did.
Conor Early rose highest to head toward goal but his effort was expertly denied by Schlingermann. However, the ‘keeper could only parry to Jason Byrne who made no mistake this time by smashing home the winner from 10 yards to complete his hat-trick.
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will travel to the Carlisle Grounds on Friday hoping to maintain their recent excellent form against Bray Wanderers, kick off 7.45 pm.
The Drogs defeated the Seagulls 2-1 earlier in the season thanks to a late header from Ryan Brennan after an Eric Foley free kick had cancelled out Jason Byrne’s opener.
The Boynesiders won all three corresponding fixtures between the sides last season scoring ten goals in the process.
As for team news, Eric Foley, Gary O’Neill, Derek Prendergast and Brian Gannon are all injury doubts heading into the game and will be assessed before kick off while Pat Devlin will have a full squad to choose from.
Bray will be no doubt buoyed by their impressive 3-1 victory away to Cork last week as the Seasiders will be aiming to record back to back wins in the league for the first time this season.
Despite that victory, Bray remain second from bottom in the table, eight points behind fifth placed Drogheda.
Having scored six goals against Longford during the week in the EA Sports Cup, Mick Cooke is confident that his side is ready for crucial upcoming weeks.
“I think we showed against Longford that we have a good squad when we can make nine changes and put in such a good performance.
“Since the Shamrock Rovers game we have put in three good performances and we will be going into the game tomorrow night with a lot of confidence.
“Bray have had some good results and Pat Devlin will have his team well setup for tomorrow night. We won’t take anything for granted.”
John Mulroy (Kevin Knight 80)
Gavin Brennan (Jason Marks 80)
Peter Hynes (Michael Schlingermann 31)
Jason Byrne (3)
Declan O’Brien (2)
Yellow Cards – Doyle 70’
Yellow Cards – Daly 27’, McNally 64’, Cassidy 81’
Red Cards – Sava 30’, Cassidy 93’