By Robert O’Reilly
Drogheda United and Finn Harps will have everything to play for next week as the sides drew 1-1 in the first leg of the First Division promotion play-off at United Park.
Ciaran Kelly gave Drogheda an early lead but they were pegged back in the second-half by substitute Nathan Boyle as the contest ended all square.
Drogheda United boss Tim Clancy made two changes from the side that defeated Shelbourne on penalties Monday night as William Hondermarck and Kealan Dillon replaced Richie Purdy and Jake Hyland.
Despite having played 120 minutes just four days ago, it was the Boynesiders who started the brighter and they took the lead on 12 minutes. Sean Brennan’s corner-kick from the left was flicked on at the near post and eventually fell for Kelly who drilled it into the bottom corner for his sixth of the season.
Harps thought they had levelled the score midway through the half as a half-cleared corner found Mikey Place and he drilled the ball underneath Paul Skinner but it was ruled out for offside.
Skinner, who was the Drogheda hero on Monday night as he saved two Shels’ penalties, was called into action again as he denied Place from close-range with an instinctive save.
Mark Timlin’s ambitious volley from 30-yards narrowly missed the top corner with Chris Lyons also trying his luck from distance.
Drogheda came close to netting a second just before the break as Lyons raced onto Dillon’s through ball and he rounded the advanced Gallagher but recovering Harps defenders narrowed the angle as Brennan’s strike was saved.
Harps began to apply pressure in the second-half and they drew level on 67 minutes. A long clearance from Gallagher was allowed bounce on the edge of the Drogheda box and Boyle nipped in-between two Drogheda defenders to fire beyond Skinner.
The hosts finished the game the stronger and they nearly won it when Mark Doyle skinned Keith Cowen before delivering the ball into the box but his cross narrowly evaded the outstretched Lyons.
The two sides will meet again next Friday in Ballybofey with the winners facing Limerick over two legs for a place in next season’s Premier Division.
Drogheda United: Paul Skinner; Kevin Farragher, Luke Gallagher, Ciaran Kelly; Colm Deasy, Kealan Dillon, Sean Brennan, William Hondermarck, Conor Kane; Chris Lyons, Mark Doyle
Subs: Luca Gratzer, Lloyd Buckley, Sean Trimble, Kealan Dillon, Janabi Amour, Eoin McPhillips, Rob Manley
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; John Kavanagh, Ciaran Coll, Keith Cowen, Sam Todd; Niall Logue, Jesse Devers (Nathan Boyle 61’), Jacob Borg, Gareth Harkin (Mark Coyle 53’), Mark Timlin (Paddy McCourt 67’); Mikey Place
Subs: Peter Burke, Aidan Friel, Oluwatunmise Sobowale, John O’Flynn
DroghedaUnited.ie Man of the Match: Kealan Dillon