by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda united will travel to Sweden next week in the knowledge that progression to the second round of the Europa League is a realistic possibility following a scoreless draw in Tallaght against Malmö FF.
Ryan Brennan was sent off for Drogheda for two bookable offences with 15 minutes to go but the ten men held out to frustrate their more illustrious opponents.
Mick Cooke made two changes from the 3-0 victory against Cork in the EA Sports Cup as Gabriel Sava replaced Michéal Schlingermann in goal and Peter Hynes came into the team for Jason Marks while Gavin Brennan lined out at left back.
Malmö started with an attacking formation of 4-3-3 with the dangerous Tokelo Rantie playing through the middle of the front three with Magnus Eriksson and Emil Forsberg either side.
The blues began the game in confident fashion as they controlled possession in the opening exchanges without testing Sava as an early effort by Forsberg went narrowly wide.
Drogheda created their first opportunity on seven minutes as a swift counter attack saw David Cassidy release Gavin Brennan down the left but the full back’s cross was gathered by Johan Dahlin with Paul O’Conor and Gary O’Neill closing in.
A classy free flowing move from the visitors saw them manoeuvre the ball through the Drogheda back line and a cross from the left was cleared in the nick of time by Gavin Brennan as Rantie closed in.
United then gifted Malmö possession on 20 minutes as a poor kickout from Sava presented captain Jiloan Hamad with the ball from 30 yards but his rising effort failed to trouble the ex-Lazio keeper.
The Boynesiders grew into the game as it developed and they almost broke the deadlock with a stroke of good fortune. Peter Hynes picked up the ball on the halfway line and his pass to Cassidy was intercepted by Dahlin in goal but his clearance deflected off one of his own players only to be cleared on the line.
Drogheda believed that they had a penalty when a clever exchange between Cassidy and Derek Prendergast saw the former taken down in the box by Eriksson but the referee waved play on much to the anger of Cooke on the sidelines.
The end of an even first half was signalled by referee Emir Aleckovic and it was the Swedes who were relieved to hear the whistle as Drogheda pressure continued to mount.
It was United who created the first opportunity of the second half as foul by Miiko Alboronoz on Cassidy presented Drogheda with an opportunity from a set piece. Cassidy’s excellent delivery to the back post was met by the head of Alan Byrne but his header landed on the roof of the net.
Malmö nearly hit the front against the run of play on 67 minutes as a corner kick from Hamad was met by Albornoz whose effort missed the target as the game became stretched.
Drogheda were reduced to ten men on 75 minutes as Ryan Brennan, who was earlier booked for dissent, was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Rantie as Malmö looked threatening on the counter attack.
The final stages of the game were played with the Drogs camped in their own half as Malmö maintained possession but failed to beat the impressive Sava who denied Rantie once again with three minutes left to play.
Despite not conceding an away goal, United remain big underdogs going into the Swedbank stadium for next week’s second leg but having matched Malmö stride for stride tonight, anything is possible.
Gary O’Neill (Declan O’Brien 67)
Peter Hynes (Brian Gannon 79)
Erik Friberg (Peter Petrovic 84)
Emil Forsberg (Simon Thern 55)
Ryan Brennan (54 & 75 yellow, 75 red)
Tokelo Rantie (26)
Miiko Albornoz (59)
Jiloen Hamad (70)