by Shane Callaghan
Drogheda United’s win-less streak in the Airtricity League extended to seven games after the Boynesiders were held to a 2-2 draw with UCD during a sun-drenched afternoon at the Bowl.
Mick Cooke’s men – whose last league victory came against Limerick in May – had raced into a 10th-minute lead courtesy of Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien, but the hosts drew level nine minutes later through Dean Clarke.
The Students then took a 55th-minute lead through James Kavanagh’s free-kick after United goalkeeper Gabriel Sava was ajudged to have handled outside the area, before fan-favourite O’Brien provided an immediate riposte for the visitors – albeit in fortuitious circumstance.
The Boynesiders will journey back up the M1 this evening puzzled as to how they failed to snatch all three points, with UCD goalkeeper, Mark McGinley, emerging from the game with hero-status having pulled off a series of exceptional saves at the death to deny Cooke’s charges the victory.
Cooke made two changes to the side who perished in Malmö on Thursday, with centre-half duo Alan McNally and Derek Prendergast sitting out the trip to the capital due to injury and suspension respectively, while Shane Grimes and Ryan Brennan – who missed the defeat in Sweden through suspension – returned to the starting lineup.
The visitors looked keen to put their Europa League disappointment behind them early on and, having enjoyed a monopoly of possession during the opening exchanges, it wasn’t long before the visiting manager watched on as the pressure paid dividends.
Midfielder David Cassidy clipped a perfect ball over the UCD defence for O’Brien who beat the offside trap, and Fabio, as he often does, made no mistake in front of goal and squeezed his effort beneath McGinley.
Paul O’Conor, who enjoyed a two-year spell with the Students prior to joining Drogheda, looked intent on marking his return to his former home with a goal, but the 25-year-old failed to steer his effort goal-bound.
Martin Russell’s charges responded positively, though, and began gradually earning a foothold in proceedings, with forward Robbie Benson, in particular, proving a menace to the Drogheda United rearguard.
Brothers Ryan and Gavin Brennan both saw good bids to add to their advantage rebuffed by the impressive McGinley, before the hosts travelled up the other end of the field to draw level through Clarke.
The 20-year-old collected possession deep inside the visitors’ half before showing remarkable strength to withstand the imposing nature of Alan Byrne to slot past Gabriel Sava and restore parity.
The away side finished the half as dominantly as they had started it, with David Cassidy’s thumping-effort narrowly sailing wide, before the diminutive midfielder turned provider and crossed for Peter Hynes whose header crashed off the upright. It would not be the last time United would be undone by the woodwork this afternoon.
The hosts emerged from the interval as the stronger side, and took the lead some nine minutes after referee Anthony Buttimer signalled for the restart.
United ‘keeper Gabriel Sava journeyed from his area in a bid to avert danger amid striker Robbie Benson chasing a long-ball played from defence. However, the former Lazio youth caught the ball before retreating to his box, which earned him a caution from Buttimer. From the indirect free-kick, James Kavanagh saw his effort evade the on-rushing wall en route to the net.
The celebrations were to be short-lived, though, as the Drogheda United supporters broke into a second chorus of their ‘Fabio’ chant after O’Brien netted his and his team’s second of the afternoon some 60 seconds after going behind.
O’Brien capitalised on an error in the UCD defence before his initial effort rebounded off himself via McGinley and trickled over the line despite the best efforts of Hugh Douglas. 2-2.
Then, a moment of controversy. Graham Rusk, who also enjoyed a spell at the Bowl, surged toward goal with seemingly only McGinley to beat before being brought down by Kavanagh. The away supporters, baying for a red card with the belief that Kavanagh denied a goalscoring opportunity, soon erupted upon witnessing referee Buttimer issue a yellow one.
To add to the frustrations of the travelling fans, O’Brien saw his claim for the points and the match-ball denied by the outside the post – perhaps a case of fortune levelling itself out by virtue of his second.
Defenders Michael Daly and Alan Byrne both forced outstanding saves from Mark McGinley at the death; with Daly’s effort being deflected out by the feet of the keeper, before Byrne’s header was expertly tipped over from the resulting corner.
Two points dropped for Cooke and Drogheda and with their game against Sligo Rovers postponed next Friday, they must wait two weeks before another attempt at 3 points.
by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United will be without their first choice centre back pairing as they return to domestic action following their European elimination as they take on UCD at the Belfield Bowl, kick off 3pm.
Alan McNally will be out of action for two weeks having been stretchered off in the 2-0 defeat to Malmo on Thursday while Captain Derek Prendergast is serving a one match suspension having accumulated 4 yellow cards.
Ryan Brennan will return to the side having sat out the game in the Swedbank Stadion following his red card during the scoreless first leg in Tallaght.
Martin Russell goes into the game with two injury concerns as Thomas Boyle is struggling with a hamstring injury and Barry McCabe is a doubt with an ankle knock.
United have already tasted victory against the students this season as they recorded a 3-2 win back in April thanks to a double from Gary O’Neill and Gavin Brennan, one of only four victories the Drogs have registered in 19 league games.
A victory for UCD will move them onto level points with Drogheda in eight position as they look to move further away from the relegation zone.
Drogheda United boss Mick Cooke is eager for his side to pick up a vital three points as they aim to keep pace with the top six.
“Obviously Thursday was a tough game, played in difficult conditions but the lads were back training this morning. We went back to basics and it was a good session.
“Everyone is upbeat in the camp, we put in a great performance on Thursday, so we can hold our heads high and now we are back to league business.
“UCD is never an easy place to go, they have had some great results there this season, but we will be looking to get our league form back on track and hopefully moving up the table. “
Robbie Creevy (Barry McCabe 81)
Samir Belhout (Gary Burke 69)
Ryan Brennan (Jason Marks 83)
Peter Hynes (Graham Rusk 62)
Dean Clarke 19
James Kavanagh 55
Declan O’Brien 10
Declan O’Brien 56
Dean Clarke 39 (yellow)
James Kavanagh 88 (yellow)
Gabriel Sava 54 (yellow)
Ryan Brennan 63 (yellow)
Gavin Brennan 88 (yellow