by Robert O'Reilly
A first-half header from debutant Daryl Kavanagh was enough for Drogheda United to secure all three points at they defeated Bray wanderers 1-0 at the Carlisle Grounds.
Kavanagh put the visitors in front after 25 minutes as he converted from close range but United were pegged back in the second period and were fortunate to hold on for victory.
Drogheda United manager Johnny McDonnell handed Lloyd Buckley his first Premier Division start in place of the suspended Alan Byrne as the Boynesiders lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
It was the Seagulls who started the brighter when former Drog David Cassidy picked out Chris Lyons but the striker pulled his shot wide from just inside the box.
Bray seemed eager to take full advantage of their quick start and they squandered a great chance on ten minutes when Cassidy’s whipped delivery was met by the head of Daniel O’Reilly who failed to hit the target.
United slowly began to settle into the game and it was the former Sligo Rovers striker Kavanagh who looked their brightest spark as he his speculative effort from 25 yards curled agonisingly wide of Stephen McGuinness’ goal.
The Tipperary native wasn’t to be denied for long though as Drogheda moved the ball down the right flank and Cathal Brady worked a yard of space before crossing for Kavanagh who nodded past McGuinness at the near post.
Bray regained their ascendancy following the goal but struggled to create much from open play as Cassidy’s set-piece from the right picked out Hugh Douglas but the centre back failed to make clean contact with the ball as it rolled into the path of the underworked Micheál Schlingermann.
That was to change in the second half though as the Drogheda shot-stopper produced a fine save on 50 minutes from Luke Gallagher’s fierce drive.
The Boyneisders looked happy to play on the break and that tactic almost paid dividends on the hour mark when Jason Marks found Kavanagh and the striker attempted an audacious chip which was tipped over the bar by the recovering McGuinness.
The majority of the hosts’ play continued to come down the left side as the adventurous O’Reilly sent a low cross into the box that was met by the outstretched Lyons but he failed to test Schlingermann.
In a rare second half attack, Drogheda had strong appeals for a penalty turned down when Brady’s cross appeared to strike the arm of O’Reilly but referee Sean Grant waived play on much to the frustration of the travelling crowd.
Bray had one last chance to salvage something from the game as deep in stoppage time Lyons found a yard of space from 20 yards and he turned and shot but his effort flew over the bar.
The final whistle marked a victorious debut and a clean sheet for McDonnell’s side as they made the perfect start to the 2015 Airtricity league season.
Drogheda United will kick-off their Premier Division campaign tomorrow afternoon as they travel to the Carlisle Grounds to face Bray Wanderers, kick-off 5.45pm.
Johnny McDonnell took charge of United in late November following Damien Richardson’s departure and the Dubliner has brought with him 15 new signings, bringing an added significance to pre-season as the new group of players looked to settle in ahead of the season opener.
‘We’ve come through the last six weeks with no injuries which is always important,’ McDonnell admitted Friday morning. ‘I think we’ve done the right amount of training; we want the players ready to go for the start and not to be physically or mentally tired. It was difficult with the amount of changes we had but I think we’ve come through it well. We’re maybe a match short in terms of games but pre-season is never ideal.’
The Boynesiders will be without the suspended pair of Alan Byrne and Shane Dunne for the short trip South. Byrne will be unavailable as he was sent off in the final match of last season for Athlone Town while Dunne will serve a one-match ban having picked up 12 yellow cards last term playing for Wexford Youths.
Midfielder Mark Hughes will also be absent for United as he is recovering from injury though McDonnell is not concerned that the absentees will greatly weaken his side.
‘We were already aware that all three players wouldn’t be available for the first game so it’s no shock. The group trained well last night and we’ve had Bray scouted a few times already so our preparation is complete. I think it’s best for myself and the players that the waiting is almost over because we feel ready to go.’
There was little to separate the sides when they met last season as they both hold a victory over the other while the third meeting ended in a draw. Drogheda finished just above the Seasiders in 9th place in the league table despite picking up an extra ten points and McDonnell is anticipating another tight affair between the sides.
‘Alan’s sides have always played with a very direct style with high pressure so they’re very difficult to play against. They were dangerous from set-pieces from last season and once we deal with that and perform to a high level, we have a good chance.
‘You’re always confident going in to a new season and I’ve been saying to the players that you always get what you put in. It’s all about the performance and once you deliver that, the result will take care of itself.’
Peter McGlynn (Emeka Onwubiko 67)
David Cassidy (Peter Durrad 83)
Cathal Brady (Lee Duffy 85)
Sean Brennan (Michael Scott 80)
Jason Marks (Carl Walshe 90)
Daryl Kavanagh (25)
Jack Memery (40)
Emeka Onwubiko (90)
Sean Brennan (40)
Joe Gorman (44)