By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United have moved back into the play-off places after they defeated Longford Town 2-1 in a pulsating encounter at United Park.
Dean Dillon had given the visitors an early lead but a superb double from Gareth McCaffrey was enough for the Drogs to secure a crucial win.
Drogheda manager Tim Clancy, who was starting the first of a four-match ban, made two changes from the side that lost to UCD a fortnight ago as the suspended pair of Kevin Farragher and Sean Brennan were replaced by Colm Deasy and McCaffrey.
The hosts showed their intent from the off as Luke Gallagher deflected the ball wide from Chris Lyons’ drilled cross.
A strong penalty appeal was then waved away by referee Damien McGrath as Mark Doyle collected the loose ball in the penalty area before going to ground under Mick Kelly’s challenge with the goalkeeper breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Longford then stung Drogheda on 14 minutes. A slack pass in midfield was pounced upon by Dillon who drove forward unchallenged before curling a low strike beyond Paul Skinner and into the bottom corner.
Rocked by the goal, Drogheda lost their rhythm though they nearly drew level on the half hour mark when Lyons released Doyle through on goal though the winger could only find the side netting on his weaker left foot.
There was more controversy on 36 minutes as Lyons was hacked down on the edge of the box with play continuing when Hyland was dragged down in the box. The initial free-kick was given and Drogheda’s frustrations turned to joy as McCaffrey curled a sweet 25-yard free-kick into the far corner.
De Town almost struck another sucker punch just before the break as Dylan McGlade found space down the left but he misjudged his chip with Paul Skinner advanced from goal.
The Drogheda number one was called into action once again early in the second-half as he produced a fine save low to his right to deny Peter Hopkins.
That miss would prove to be critical as with 22 minutes left to play, Lyons produced a defence splitting pass to the onside McCaffrey who showed composure and class as he deftly lifted the ball over Kelly for his sixth of the season.
Longford struggled to break down a resolute Drogheda defence but they nearly stole a point in the eight minute of stoppage time as goalkeeper Kelly rose highest from a corner but his header flew narrowly wide as the final whistle was blown.
Drogheda will travel to St Colman’s Park next Saturday knowing that a victory will guarantee their place in the end of season promotion play-offs while Longford host First Division champions UCD.
Drogheda United: Paul Skinner; Colm Deasy, Luke Gallagher, Ciaran Kelly, Conor Kane; Jake Hyland, Richie Purdy, William Hondermarck; Gareth McCaffrey (Kealan Dillon 74’), Chris Lyons, Mark Doyle (Jordan Adeyemo 90’)
Subs: Luca Gratzer, Lloyd Buckley, Janabi Amour, Rob Manley, Stephen Trimble,
Longford Town: Mick Kelly; Karl Chambers, Tristan Noak Hofmann, Daniel O’Reilly, Mick McDonnell; Aodh Dervin, Dean Zambra (Eoin O’Neill 83’), Dean Dillon; Peter Hopkins (Jackson Ryan 90), Jamie Doyle, Dylan McGlade
Subs: Ben Kelly, Evan O’Connor, Tumelo Tlou, Warren Mtchell, Uli Keller
DrogehdaUnited.ie Man of the Match: Gareth McCaffrey