By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United have opened up a five point gap between second and third after they defeated Shelbourne 1-0 in a heated contest at United Park.
After an underwhelming first-half performance, the Drogs made the breakthrough on the hour mark as Niall Cooney fired high into the roof of net and they hung on for a massive three points despite substitute Jake Hyland’s late red card.
Drogheda United manager Pete Mahon made one change from the side that defeated Athlone Town last week as Sam O’Connor started in place of Derek Doyle with Aaron Ashe reverting back to a wide midfield role.
It was an error from the usually reliable Stephen McGuinness that created the first opportunity of the game as he scuffed his pass straight into the path of James English but the striker failed to hit the target with the goal at his mercy.
A shaky start from the hosts should have been punished as less than a minute later, a hopeful long ball was knocked down by English for Jamie Doyle but the winger’s first time strike was off target from the edge of the box.
Drogheda gradually improved as the game developed and a dangerous delivery from Sean Brennan was headed goalwards by Sean Thornton though referee Robert Hennessey awarded the visitors a free kick.
United had another let off just before the break as the ball worked down the left to Jamie Doyle and his snap-shot from an acute angle cannoned back off the post with Drogheda relieved to go into the break on level terms.
Jamie Doyle was a constant menace throughout and he exchanged passes with his strike partner English three minutes into the second period but he shot horribly wide with only Stephen McGuinness to beat.
High pressure in midfield saw Drogheda rob Shels of possession deep in their own half as O’Connor worked the ball to Thornton but his drive from 20 yards was well by saved by
Jack Brady in goal.
Drogheda pushed again on 55 minutes as Adam Wixted, who had drifted over to the right side of the pitch, sent in a dangerous in-swinging cross to the backpost but O’Connor and Ashe contrived to get in each other’s way with the chance gone.
The crucial breakthrough arrived on the hour mark as a corner kick was worked back to Stephen Dunne and his deep cross was knocked into the path of Cooney who diverted the ball beyond Brady high into the roof of the net.
The home side controlled possession going into the latter stages of the game but they were grateful to McGuinness who tipped Gavin Boyne’s deflected strike over the bar.
Following a series of yellow cards for both sides, Drogheda were reduced to ten men in stoppage time as substitute Jake Hyland appeared to lose his footing when challenging Boyne deep in the Shels half and he was shown a straight red card much to the anger of the home crowd.
Shels had one final chance to rescue a point right at the death as a loose ball was knocked back into a crowded penalty area but substitute Sodiq Ogantola headed straight at McGuinness as Drogheda recorded four wins on the bounce for the first time since 2012.
Drogheda will put their First Division aspirations to one side next week as they travel to the Brandywell on Friday aiming to cause an upset against high-flying Derry City.
Adam Wixted (Eoin Kirwan 88)
Sean Brennan (Jake Hyland 81)
Aaron Ashe (Derek Doyle 84)
Aidan Collins (Carl Walshe 81)
Lorcan Shannon (Dylan Grimes 73)
Robert O’Reilly (Sodiq Oguntola 63)
Niall Cooney 59