By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United have secured their place in next week’s First Division promotion playoff after they defeated UCD 2-1 on a dramatic night at United Park.
In a game they couldn’t afford to lose, Drogheda took the lead inside the opening half hour through Marc Griffin but they were pegged back on the stroke of half time courtesy of Mark Langtry’s low strike.
An end to end second half ensued with Adam Wixted scoring the crucial winner after the hour mark to seal runners up spot in the league for the Boynesiders.
Drogheda United manager Pete Mahon made three changes from the side that lost to Limerick last week with Stephen Dunne, Sean Thornton and Gareth McCaffrey all restored to the starting XI.
The hosts attacked with a purposed from kick-off and they came within inches of taking the lead as a long throw-in in to the box fell to Wixted who saw his volley cannon back off the inside of the post.
It was another long throw-in that created the next chance on goal as Langtry’s airborne delivery was flicked goalwards by Georgie Kelly only to be superbly denied by Stephen McGuinness in goal.
The two sides were exchanging possession for much of the opening period before Drogheda hit the front. A swift counter attack resulted in Wixted finding McCaffrey on the left and he played a gorgeous lofted ball into the path of Griffin who feinted inside before finding the bottom corner from 15 yards.
Drogheda’s lead didn’t last long though as the Students struck just before the break. Ryan Swan won possession back deep in midfield and he played a defence splitting ball down the inside right channel leaving Langtry with the simple tasking of slotting past McGuinness.
Barely 90 seconds had past in the second half when the visitors hit the frame of the goal. An under-hit pass in midfield from Colm Deasy was pounced upon by Gary O’Neill and the UCD captain produced a venomous drive that was superbly tipped onto the bar by the Drogheda keeper.
United continued to push forward for a second goal and it nearly arrived on 50 minutes as Griffin turned two defenders before playing Sean Thornton through on goal and the Drogs skipper beat Niall Corbet only to see his strike cleared off the line by Thomas Boyle.
Corbet’s goal was living a charmed life as he again frustrated Drogheda as he raced from his goal to block McCaffrey’s attempted lob but he was helpless minutes later.
Dunne regained possession high inside his own half and quickly released Griffin down the touchline and the former Bohs striker played a glorious ball across goal to Wixted who cut inside the defender before firing low into the bottom corner.
UCD continued to carry a threat going forward and they almost provided an instant response as Greg Sloggett rose highest from a corner kick but once again McGuinness was on hand to tip his effort on to the crossbar.
United came close to clinching victory with two minutes left to play as substitute Aaron Ashe picked up the ball from inside his own half and he dribbled past Langtry only for his effort from the edge of the box to be parried by the busy Corbet.
The referee’s full-time whistle was greeted with scenes of celebration both on and off the pitch with Drogheda set to face Cobh Ramblers in the first leg of the playoff before hosting them at United Park the following Friday.
Richie Purdy (John McKeown 83)
Jake Hyland (Lloyd Buckley 89)
Gareth McCaffrey (Aaron Ashe 79)
Liam Scales (Cathal Brady 67)
Kieran Marty Waters (Jason Byrne 71)
Jason McClelland (Simon Power 78)