by Robert O'Reilly
Eight man Drogheda United will have another chance to progress to the semi-final of the FAI Cup after they held Derry City to a 2-2 draw in a controversial clash at United Park.
Peter McGlynn was sent off for United on the half hour mark with the score at 1-1 after Alan McNally cancelled out Ryan McBride’s opener before Shane Grimes was dismissed for foul and abusive language by referee Derek Tomney.
McNally then headed the nine men back in front on 52 minutes and it appeared as though the hosts would hold on for a famous win before Phillip Lowry equalised for the dominant Candystripes with Gavan Holohan receiving a second yellow in added on time.
Derry City boss Peter Hutton made nine changes from their record league defeat to Dundalk on Monday as Rory Patterson made his first start in a month while Drogheda brought Carl Walshe, Ciaran McGuigan and Stephen Maher into the side from the 1-1 draw with Athlone Town last week.
The visitors looked like a side with a point to prove and they immediately put the hosts under pressure as on eight minutes Patterson flicked the ball into the path of Michael Duffy on the left wing and the midfielder’s fierce drive struck the outside of Micheál Schlingermann’s post.
City were to hit the frame of the goal again seconds later when a lofted cross into the box found Patterson in space but the striker saw his curling effort cannon back off the foot of the post much to the home side’s relief.
At this stage of the game the opener seemed inevitable and it arrived on 13 minutes when a short corner from the left between Barry McNamme and Duffy saw the latter cross for McBride at the back post to control and volley past Schlingermann into the bottom corner.
United were level ten minutes later from virtually their first attack of the game as Holohan’s corner from the right was met by McNally whose initial header was blocked on the line by Stephen Dooley but the defender reacted first to force the ball into the net at the second attempt.
The momentum of the game had swung the way of the Boynesiders before the first major talking point of the game came on 32 minutes as McGlynn was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Dean Jarvis with referee Tomney having little option but to produce the red.
Drogheda were reduced to nine men early in the second half as Shane Grimes was dismissed for foul and abusive language towards Tomney but United still hit the front on 52 as McNally connected with Holohan’s delivery to divert the ball beyond Ger Doherty from 12 yards.
It was attack versus defence for the remainder of the game as the home side looked to hold onto their precious lead as Schlingermann denied Patterson twice in quick sucession.
The Candystripes continued to probe the Drogheda defence with McNamme becoming more central to their play and they were finally rewarded on 84 minutes as a free kick into the box was only partially cleared to the feet of Phillip Lowry who struck a sweet half volley into the bottom corner of the net.
City continued to push for the winner and they were to play five minutes of additional time against ten men as Holohan was dismissed for a second yellow card after Tomney adjudged him to have kicked the ball away from a Derry free kick.
The final whistle was greeted with cheers from the home side as the eight men held on but given the fatigue and suspensions picked up tonight. Derry will be heavy favourites come Tuesday’s replay at the Brandywell.
All eyes will be on United Park this Friday as Drogheda United and Derry City go head to head for a place in the semi-final of the FAI Cup, kick-off 7.45pm.
Drogheda warmed up for the Cup clash with a 1-1 draw at home to Athlone Town, a result which means that United have only lost once since manager Damien Richardson took charge and the Dubliner was pleased with the character that his side showed last Friday.
“I thought the draw against Athlone was a fair result given how the game developed but the performance was disappointing”, Richardson admitted on Thursday. “Despite that, I really enjoyed the fighting spirit that we showed throughout the 90 minutes. There was an honesty and a strength of character to our display that I hope we can reproduce against Derry. Both of our seasons will encapsulate in this one game and a fighting spirit will be imperative to any result.”
There is a growing belief among last year’s finalists that 2014 may bring only Drogheda’s second FAI Cup trophy after their maiden success in 2005 and Richardson has highlighted the high work rate of his side as a reason for their turnaround in form.
“Confidence is a very important element to have and it comes off the back of good performances and results which we have produced for a number of weeks now. There is a lot hard work going on in training that the fans don’t get to witness, the boys trained sometimes four times a week during the early stages of our relationship and they are now reaping the benefits of that. Confidence is high and if Derry are going to come and win it, they will need to be at their very best to do so.”
Drogheda will be without the suspended Gavin Brennan for Derry’s visit as he has two games left to serve on his four-match ban but Alan McNally will be available despite a foot injury for an otherwise full strength United.
There is little to separate the sides based on league form with the Candystripes five points ahead of United in sixth place in the table. They also each hold a victory over the other this season with Derry running out 2-0 victors back in May while a Cathal Brady strike was the difference between the sides when they met at United Park last month.
The Drogheda manager was in attendance on Monday as he watched a much-changed Derry City side lose heavily to league leaders Dundalk as they slipped to their fifth defeat in the last nine games. Despite that result, the Drogheda manager is adamant that Derry will provide stern opposition but is hopeful that home advantage will prove crucial.
“I believe only Barry Molloy and Barry McNamme would be likely to start against us so I expect them to have a totally different attitude from Monday’s defeat. We hope to have a big crowd and a good atmosphere as I’m sure that it will be a keen game with a great intensity. Cup football is all about holding your nerve and this game has all the makings of a classic.”
Stephen Maher (Paul Crowley 72)
Gary O’Neill (Garreth Brady 72).
Dean Jarvis (Mark Timlin 80);
Stephen Dooley (Josh Tracey 80)
Alan McNally (23, 52)
Ryan McBride (13)
Phillip Lowry (84)
Gavan Holohan (72. 90)