By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United have advanced to next week’s Premier Division promotion play-off final after they defeated Cobh Ramblers 3-2 on aggregate on a nervy and dramatic night at United Park.
Two goals for the visitors inside the opening eight minutes wiped out Drogheda’s first leg advantage but Gareth McCaffrey’s second half volley was enough for United to advance to play Wexford Youths over two legs next week.
Drogheda United manager Pete Mahon named an unchanged side from Saturday’s 2-0 victory at St Colman’s Park with Sean Thornton, Richie Purdy and Jake Hyland comprising a three man midfield.
A lightening start from the visitors saw them catch Drogheda cold inside the opening minute. A long ball over the top from Ian Mylod was latched onto by Conor Ellis and the forward made no mistake as he slotted the ball across Drogs keeper Stephen McGuinness into the far corner.
A bad start turned into a disastrous one as Cobh doubled their lead from their next attack. A long ball into the box wasn’t cleared and Shane O’Connor took advantage of some hesitancy in the penalty area to turn and fire low into the bottom corner leaving the home side shell shocked.
Drogheda were struggling to cope with Cobh’s direct and physical style snd it took until 20 minutes before they had their first shot in anger. Thornton won the ball in midfield and he exchanged passes with McCaffrey before Marc Griffin teed up Hyland who fired agonisingly wide.
United were struggling to get their passing game going and they were fortunate not to fall behind on aggregate on the stroke of half-time. A counter-attack down the right saw Rob Lehane deliver a perfect cross to the backpost for Matthew Whelan but his powerful downward header was somehow clawed off the line by McGuinness.
The Drogs stopper was called into action once again on 55 minutes as Ellis collected the ball on the edge of the box and he worked a yard of space before firing low only to be denied again by the 20-year-old.
The crucial moment of the tie arrived with an hour played. Under pressure from the full back, Adam Wixted cut inside on his favoured left foot and he delivered a tempting ball to the backpost where McCaffrey kept his composure to volley the ball into the far corner and put the Drogs back in front on aggregate.
Cobh pushed forward immediately to try and regain momentum and they were once again foiled by the peerless McGuinness who parried Lehane’s effort wide before Luke Gallagher blocked down the follow up strike.
Luck was certainly on the side of the Boynesiders as Craig Donnellan’s rising strike from 20 yards clipped the crossbar with Whelan’s header then cleared off the line by the recovering Gallagher as Drogheda breathed a huge sigh of relief.
United almost put the tie to bed in the final minute as substitute Aaron Ashe got beyond the final defender before cutting back for Wixted whose shot was cleared off the line with Hunt stranded.
Over the course of five minutes of additional time, Cobh pumped countless long balls into the Drogheda penalty area but it was to no avail as the referee’s final whistle was greeted with both joy and relief as Drogheda’s promotion push continues.
Drogheda will travel to Ferrycarrig Park on Monday to face with Wexford Youths while the return leg will take place at United Park on Friday.
Adam Wixted (Derek Doyle 89)
Marc Griffin (Aaron Ashe 78)
Ian Mylod (Eoin McGreevy 89)
Rob Lehane (Anthony O’Donnell 75)
Conor Ellis (Kyle McNamara 75)