It’s three ‘n’ easy as the Drogs suffer holiday hell
DROGHEDA United were brought crashing back to earth with the heaviest of thuds at Markets Field on Easter Saturday as they failed dismally to build on their excellent win against Shamrock Rovers.
The value of that hard-earned victory was starkly illustrated as this latest setback saw the Boynesiders plunge to within one point of the relegation zone, and judging by the display against Limerick it could be a long and difficult summer for Pete Mahon’s team.
In fairness to Drogheda, they were badly hit by injuries and suspension, with all three Brennan brothers among the absentees along with Marc Griffin and Lloyd Buckley, while Ciaran McGuigan and Stephen Elliott were only deemed fit enough for the bench as they returned from illness and injury.
Limerick were also coming into this game on the back of an encouraging win - away to St Pat’s in Willie Boland’s first game as interim manager following the shock exit of Martin Russell - and it was the Shannonsiders who made hay as Drogheda had a nightmare start.
Set pieces have been something of an Achilles’ heel for the Drogs this season and once again that weakness was evident as early as the fifth minute as former United Park favourite Lee Lynch swung in a corner and Brazilian striker Rodrigo Tosi got in front of his marker to head home powerfully.
The last thing Drogheda needed was for the rub of the green to go against them, but just two minutes later a poorly struck shot by Chiedozie Ogbene rebounded off Chris Mulhall and past keeper Stephen McGuinness.
Not that they could complain about their bad fortune, for a week earlier Drogheda were the beneficiaries from that scrambled stoppage-time equaliser against Rovers. These incidents tend to even themselves out over the course of the season.
A great overlapping run by Limerick right-back Shaun Kelly ended with a low cross which Tosi failed to convert as the Drogheda defence applied sufficient pressure to put him off.
The away side were in some disarray at this stage and Limerick were almost gifted a third goal when Tosi benefited from a mix-up between McGuinness and centre-half Kevin Farragher, only to be denied by the keeper who recovered well after the initial confusion.
Kelly was a constant threat for Limerick, ensuring an uncomfortable evening for Drogs left-back Stephen Dunne, and following one of his surging runs Ogbene turned and fired towards goal, only for Farragher to block on the line.
Going into half-time Drogheda knew they had to score first in the second half to have any realistic chance of salvaging something from the game, but within eight minutes Limerick had the points wrapped up.
Ogbene, the former Cork City player who caused Drogheda plenty of headaches in the pre-season friendly back in February, took possession from Brendan Clarke’s angled clearance and accelerated past the challenges of Colm Deasy and Luke Gallagher.
His eventual shot wasn’t particularly well-struck, but it had sufficient power to beat McGuinness and Drogheda were 3-0 down with more than half an hour remaining.
Lynch almost helped himself to a spectacular fourth as his 20-yard shot cannoned off the Drogheda crossbar, and the same piece of woodwork was hit shortly after as substitute Dean Clarke was put through by Tosi and saw his shot touched onto the bar by McGuinness.
Drogheda had carried little or no threat in attack up to this point, but Clarke was finally called into action when substitute Stephen Elliott - a replacement for Ryan McEvoy mid-way through the second half - shot straight at the Limerick netminder.
Adam Wixted and McGuigan also saw game time as Jake Hyland and Mark Doyle were hauled off, but the changes made no different to the balance of play as Drogheda’s poor away form continued.
Five minutes from time McGuinness was called into action again to help prevent an even heavier defeat, making a fine stop to keep out a curling Clarke effort.
Drogheda put it up to Limerick in all four meetings between the sides in the First Division last season even though they only picked up two points out of 12, but they never looked likely to pick up anything on this occasion.
Had they been at full strength they would surely have given a much better account of themselves, however, and the return of key players cannot come soon enough for Mahon as the first series of top-flight games draws to a close.