Drogheda United will be playing Premier Division football once again in 2017 after they staged a remarkable comeback to defeat Wexford Youths 3-2 on aggregate on a historic night at United Park.
A stunning strike from Sean Brennan was followed up by Kevin Farragher’s second half header to level the tie at 2-2 and then Sean Thornton’s successful penalty put United ahead ten minutes from time as they hung on to bounce back to the top flight at the first attempt.
Drogheda United manager Pete Mahon made two changes from Monday’s 2-0 first leg defeat as Lloyd Buckley and Brennan replaced Farragher and Thornton who were both carrying knocks.
Wexford started off with intent to kill the tie early and they were denied the opener on a quarter of an hour. Paul Murphy’s cross from the right picked out the unmarked Danny Furlong whose goal bound header was cleared by a combination of Stephen McGuinness, Luke Gallagher and Buckley with the latter having to be substituted through injury.
A slow start from the Drogs though they sprung into life midway through the half as Richie Purdy carried the ball deep into Wexford territory and his low drive was parried by Graham Doyle who foiled Adam Wixted on the rebound.
Wixted was central to Drogheda’s next attack as a neat passing move resulted in the winger clipping the ball to the back post and confusion in the Wexford backline saw Gareth McCaffrey pounce but his header was cleared off the line by Lee Grace.
Drogheda were firmly on top at this stage and they got the goal their played deserved in additional time at the end of the half. A short corner from Marc Griffin found Brennan on the edge of the box and he worked a yard of space before curling an unstoppable strike on his weaker foot into the top left hand corner, his sixth of the season.
Buoyed by their goal, the home side continued to control the game after the break. Gallagher’s long distance strike was tipped behind by the busy Doyle who then thwarted Griffin who had raced clear on goal.
The Boynesiders’ constant pressure eventually told as they drew level on aggregate on 58 minutes. Griffin’s tempting corner kick was met by a bullet header from substitute Farragher leaving Doyle with no chance and the tie firmly in the balance.
Youths responded well to the setback and they enjoyed their best period of the game. A snapshot from Furlong tested McGuinness before the Drogheda keeper made a superb reflex save to keep out Gary Delaney’s close range strike.
The next goal was always likely to win it and Drogheda were presented with a chance from the spot with ten minutes to go. Andrew O’Connor was adjudged to have fouled Griffin as the striker attempted to turn and shoot in the area and Thornton made no mistake from 12 yards to spark wild scenes of celebration amongst the Drogheda players and fans.
Less than three minutes later and the visitors had the ball in the net. A looping cross was caught by McGuinness who was then barged over by a Wexford forward leaving Shane Dempsey to fire into the empty net. Inexplicably, referee Graham Kelly appeared to award the goal before consulting with his assistant and awarding the Drogs a free kick.
During the course of five agonising minutes of additional time, Wexford created one final golden opportunity. A long ball into the box fell invitingly for Murphy who rounded McGuinness before slotting the ball into the open goal only for Farragher to make a miraculous goal line clearance with virtually the final kick of the game.
The greatest night United Park has seen since winning the Premier Division title back in 2007. A real team effort all year from Pete, his coaching staff, the players and all the fans. Premier Division football will grace United Park once again next year.
Lloyd Buckley (Kevin Farragher 20)
Sean Brennan (Sean Thornton 54)
Adam Wixted (Aaron Ashe 89)
Chris Kenny (Shane Dunne 88)
Andrew O’Connor (Shane Dempsey 86)
Conor Whittle (Aiden Friel 86)
Sean Brennan 45’
Kevin Farragher 58’
Sean Thornton 80’