by Robert O'Reilly
Drogheda United have crashed out of the EA Sports Cup at the first attempt after they were defeated 1-0 by Shelbourne at United Park.
The First Division side scored the only goal of a tight and disjointed encounter when Mark Sanford fired high into the roof of the net shortly after the interval.
Drogheda manager Johnny McDonnell, facing the side that he guided to the play-offs last season, made five changes from the eleven that won in Bray on Saturday as Alan Byrne, Shane Dunne, Carl Walshe, Lee Duffy and Tiarnan Mulvenna all started.
The home side almost went in front on five minutes when the ball was played behind the Shelbourne defence as Mulvenna struck the inside of the post but the assistant referee’s flag was raised for offside.
A heavy backpass from Byrne caused havoc in the Drogs defence as Micheál Schlingermann failed to clear the ball and presented a golden opportunity to Sanford but the Drogheda stopper made amends with a fine save.
Bright interplay between Daryl Kavanagh, Duffy and Mulvenna saw the latter break free of the Shels backline on 19 minutes but the former Cliftonville striker pulled his shot wide from outside the box.
Despite seeing less of the ball, it was the visitors who carried the greater goal threat and Schlingermann was called into action once again as he made a fine fingertip save from Sean Heaney as he connected with an in-swinging delivery.
Both sides struggled to put a string of passes together for the remainder of the first period though Kavanagh did test Dave Ryan as he dribbled past three players before his rising drive stung the palms of the former Drogheda keeper.
The second half started with a guilt edged chance for the hosts to take the lead when a lofted pass from Kavanagh found Mulvenna who headed the ball into the path of the onrushing Duffy but he saw his effort struck the inside of the post before Ryan denied him once again on the rebound.
The Dubliners made Drogheda pay the price instantly as they counter-attacked down the left hand side and a low cross found Sandford who hit the post with his initial effort before converting at the second attempt.
Shels came close to doubling their lead on 56 minutes as a stunning 25 yard free-kick from Gareth Coughlan produced an even better save from Schlingermann as he tipped the ball onto the bar.
The visitors were well in the ascendancy at this stage as Alan Kehoe was allowed to travel up the pitch with the ball and he dribbled past two Drogheda challenges before his shot from an acute angle was pushed behind.
Drogheda produced one final chance to draw level on 73 minutes as Dunne slipped a through ball into the path of Mulvenna whose first time shot was pushed back into the danger zone by Ryan and substitute Matthew Rooney’s goal bound strike was blocked once again to frustrate the United Park faithful.
While the home side will no doubt be frustrated to be eliminated from the EA Sports Cup this early in the season, they will know that their performance levels will need to improve ahead of Sligo Rovers’ visit to United Park on Friday.
Shane Dunne (Sean Brennan 77)
Carl Walshe (Matthew Rooney 68)
Daryl Kavanagh (Michael Scott 65)
Conor Earley (Evan Osam 71)
Jordan Keegan (Craig Walsh 46)
Jake Donnelly (Philly Hughes 85)
Mark Sanford 49
Daryl Kavanagh 62
Shane Dunne 75
Daire Doyle 81
Philly Hughes 88