by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United’s battle against relegation took a significant blow tonight as they lost 2-1 to St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park.
Conan Byrne’s penalty gave the Saints an early second half lead but they were quickly pegged back through Alan Byrne’s header before Christy Fagan fired low into the far corner for the winner.
Drogheda United caretaker manager Mark Kinsella made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 with Cork City last week as Lee Duffy, Sean Thornton and Jason Marks replaced Adam Whelan, Lloyd Buckley and Ger Pender.
Keith Treacy produced the first shot of the game on six minutes as he cut inside from the right wing before hitting a 25 yard strike that was parried away from goal by Conor O’Malley.
It was an uncertain start from the hosts and Drogheda nearly capitalised as Thornton was gifted possession from a sloppy pass from Killian Brennan but his attempted through ball was gathered by O’Malley with Duffy ready to pounce.
St Pat’s were enjoying the majority of possession during the opening stages and they won a free kick 20 yards from goal after Alan Byrne was adjudged to have handled the ball though Micheál Schlingermann was equal to Killian Brennan’s set-piece.
The impressive Schlingermann was called into action once again on minutes 34 minutes as Ian Morris’ cross from the left was met by the head of Jamie McGrath but his effort was tipped over the bar by the Drogheda goalkeeper.
A swift counter attack from the visitors almost yielded the opener when miscontrol from Mark Hughes saw the ball sit up perfectly for Treacy but his low drive was deflected agonisingly wide of the far post.
St Pat’s started the second half brightly and they hit the front on 53 minutes when Robert Bayly tangled with Fagan in the penalty area and Conan Byrne sent Schlingermann the wrong way for his eight goal of the season.
Being a goal behind, there was an increased sense of urgency from United and as a defence splitting ball from Hughes almost released Duffy through on goal but the striker was once again frustrated by an offside flag.
The Saints almost doubled their lead on 59 minute as Lee Desmond cut in from the right onto his stronger foot but his wild drive took a wicked deflection off Joe Gorman and curled narrowly wide.
Drogheda’s best chance of an equaliser seemed to be from a set-piece and so it proved as they levelled on the hour mark as Treacy’s delivery was met by Thornton and his header across goal was nodded over the line by Byrne for his first goal of the season.
The hosts regained the lead seven minutes later as a misplaced header from Alan Byrne saw McGrath lift the ball over the Drogheda defence and Fagan ran clear before driving a left foot shot into the far corner of the goal.
It was nearly 3-1 when the fleet footed McGrath turned Byrne in the box but Schlingermann was equal to his effort and Fagan’s follow-up was blocked by Robert O’Reilly.
The closest Drogheda came to an equaliser was with five minutes remaining as substitute Robert McKenna ran at Shane McEleney before producing a curling effort from 20 yards that missed the far post.
St Pat’s controlled possession for the remainder of the game as they secured only their second win in seven games to all but secure European football for next season.
As for Drogheda, they will be anxiously awaiting the results from both Limerick and Sligo Rovers’ games tomorrow night with next Friday’s home game against Longford Town looking like a must win if they are to avoid the dreaded drop to the First Division.
Aaron Greene (Sam Verdon, 88)
Robert Bayly (Tiarnan Mulvenna 88)
Mark Hughes (Sean Brennan 78)
Lee Duffy (Robert McKenna 63).