Rovers win just what the Drogs or­dered

Drogheda Independent - - FRONT PAGE -

IT’S ex­tremely rare to sit down to write a Drogheda United re­port and won­der aloud ‘where on earth do I start?’, but that was the over­whelm­ing feel­ing af­ter this re­mark­able match last Fri­day night.

The main talk­ing points cen­tred around the per­for­mance of ref­eree Robert Rogers and his de­ci­sions to award two penal­ties and send off Sean Bren­nan, but in a cu­ri­ous way the con­tro­versy added hugely to the ex­cite­ment.

In par­tic­u­lar the last 10 min­utes – in­clud­ing five added for stop­pages – were as ac­tion-packed and breath­less as you’ll see any­where and even those who had paid ex­tra for seats in the stand spent most of that time on their feet as the drama un­folded.

That wasn’t good news for the jour­nal­ists in the back row try­ing to scru­ti­nise ev­ery mo­ment. Al­ready un­der ex­tra pres­sure to meet dead­lines ow­ing to a late kick-off, we didn’t have a great view of those clos­ing min­utes and in all hon­esty none of us – there were six! – had a clue who’d scored the win­ning goal un­til we’d un­der­taken some ‘de­tec­tive’ work af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle.

The bot­tom line, though, is that Drogheda have laid the bo­gey to rest af­ter los­ing 13 times in a row to Sham­rock Rovers on their own patch.

Per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly for the cur­rent squad, they have ended their run of six straight de­feats, and to achieve that in the way they did should gal­va­nize them go­ing into some vi­tal games against the teams in the bot­tom half of the ta­ble.

At one stage we won­dered if this game would take place at all as word came through that the Rovers team bus was stranded be­cause of mul­ti­ple crashes on the M1, but in the end it kicked off just over 20 min­utes late.

There was lit­tle op­ti­mism among Drogheda fans, es­pe­cially when the teams were an­nounced and it be­came clear that the Boy­nesiders were miss­ing both first-choice strik­ers and two cen­tre-halves as well as longer-term ab­sen­tee Kil­lian Bren­nan.

Rovers were at full strength, but look­ing at the teamsheet you have to won­der whether they’ve taken their youth pol­icy too far.

It’s cer­tainly not a squad that’s go­ing to com­pet­ing for the league ti­tle any time soon, but that’s not to take any­thing away from a su­perb Drogheda per­for­mance in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

The first half was an evenly con­tested af­fair, with Rovers just ahead in terms of chances cre­ated, be­gin­ning with a glanc­ing header from Ronan Finn in the 15th minute which rose inches over the Drogheda cross­bar.

Then United keeper Stephen McGuin­ness, who was an in­jury doubt be­fore the game, was chal­lenged in the air by Gra­ham Burke and the ball ran loose to for­mer Drog David McAl­lis­ter whose goal-bound piledriver was bril­liantly blocked on the line by Colm Deasy.

Drogs boss Pete Ma­hon had sur­pris­ingly picked league debu­tant Mark Doyle along­side Gareth McCaf­frey in a two-pronged at­tack and it was Doyle who burst between Finn and David Web­ster be­fore forc­ing Tomer Chencin­ski into his first save of the evening.

Rovers’ highly rated young winger Trevor Clarke al­most un­locked the home de­fence with a su­perb run and cross which was al­most touched in by McAl­lis­ter at full stretch.

How­ever, cru­cially, it was Drogheda who snatched the lead goal on 31 min­utes.

Sean Thorn­ton tried to drib­ble in between McAl­lis­ter and Sam Bone and went down in the box. Ref­eree Rogers pointed to the spot, in­fu­ri­at­ing the Rovers play­ers who felt the for­mer Sun­der­land man had gone down too eas­ily, and to rub salt in their wounds Thorn­ton him­self dusted him­self down be­fore rolling the penalty into the right cor­ner past Chencin­ski.

With­out wish­ing to tempt fate, is there a more re­li­able player in this league than Thorn­ton?

Rovers tried to re­spond be­fore half-time and Burke was un­lucky with a vi­ciously swerv­ing shot that even­tu­ally grazed the out­side of the post.

Drogheda needed to work hard and McCaf­frey typ­i­fied their ap­proach by bust­ing a gut to track back and win the ball back from Clarke who is definitely no slouch him­self.

Gavin Bren­nan had limped off be­fore the in­ter­val and it was his re­place­ment, brother Sean, who com­bined with Stephen Dunne to tee up Jake Hy­land and his goal-bound shot was in­ad­ver­tently blocked by team­mate Doyle.

A counter-at­tack could have yielded a Rovers equaliser on 57 min­utes as Burke’s deep cross reached Clarke who blazed over the bar.

The Hoops sup­port­ers howled for a penalty fol­low­ing an aerial duel between Kevin Far­ragher and Gary Shaw, and with three Drogheda play­ers booked in a 14-minute spell Rovers seemed to be build­ing up a head of steam.

But the Boy­nesiders de­fended su­perbly, with Far­ragher – play­ing only his sec­ond game of the sea­son – and par­tic­u­larly Luke Gal­lagher im­mense as the cen­tre-back part­ner­ship.

Sean Bren­nan curled a 30yard free kick just over the bar and Thorn­ton fired wide un­der pres­sure from Danny Devine, and sud­denly a few de­ci­sions started to go Drogheda’s way and the home sup­port­ers be­gan to be­lieve that their team could hold out.

But then came that ab­so­lutely roller­coaster cli­max.

An­other big shout for a Rovers penalty for hand-ball went un­heeded in the 84th minute, but three min­utes later they did have a spot kick, ap­par­ently for a foul on Shaw.

This time it was Drogheda’s turn to be fu­ri­ous with the of­fi­cial, and Mr Rogers lost pa­tience with Sean Bren­nan who was promptly dis­missed for dis­sent on a straight red card.

Burke sent McGuin­ness the wrong way from the spot and at this stage – with two min­utes left plus five for stop­pages - it felt al­most in­evitable that Rovers would throw the kitchen sink at the home side and snatch a win­ner.

But there was to be an­other big twist as Drogheda won a free kick about 35 yards from goal out on the right.

Thorn­ton whipped the ball into the heart of the penalty area, Ryan McEvoy – who was only on the field two min­utes – rose high­est and when Chencin­ski par­ried his header the ball can­noned off a Rovers de­fender and into the net for an own goal.

There were still four min­utes to be played and you couldn’t take your eyes off the ac­tion for one sec­ond as play swung from end to end.

On at least two oc­ca­sions Drogheda al­most con­jured threeon-one sit­u­a­tions as they at­tempted to break out, with late sub­sti­tute Thomas Byrne itch­ing to get a clear run on goal.

But Rovers had chances to burst the Boy­nesiders’ bub­ble too and in the fi­nal sec­onds McGuin­ness made an ab­so­lutely won­der­ful save, div­ing to his left – don’t ask me who took the shot! – to se­cure all three points for Drogheda.

Ma­hon had told this news­pa­per dur­ing the week that he wanted his team to be­come more ‘street­wise’ and they cer­tainly did that against Rovers.

He’ll be fu­ri­ous that one of his se­nior play­ers talked him­self into what is Drogheda’s fourth red card of the sea­son, and the mount­ing in­jury list will be a huge con­cern.

But he’s un­earthed an­other gen­uine op­tion in at­tack, Doyle, and on this ev­i­dence a 4-4-2 for­ma­tion might be the way for­ward – no pun in­tended!

Mark Doyle of Drogheda United holds the ball up as Danny Devine closes

Sa­mul Bone loses out to Drogheda’s Sean Bren­nan.

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