Hynes strike puts 10-man Drogheda in dreamland
St Pat's Ath 0 Drogheda Utd 2
Ordinarily the League of Ireland is a place of nightmares. Yet, for once, a true fairytale is taking place, with Drogheda United climbing to second place in the Premier Division on the back of this win in Inchicore.
Of course, yesterday was just the latest chapter in their recovery. Four years ago they were on the brink of extinction, the story of their rise and fall mirroring the Irish economy, a tale of reckless spending preceding a sudden crash.
Yet through the care of fans, tight budgeting and, for the last 18 months, some superb management from Mick Cooke, they are now the unlikeliest of title challengers.
Ask Pat's about that. They went into yesterday's game expecting to win, but left it with their noses out of joint after a tactical masterclass from Cooke, who adopted a 4-5-1 formation to counteract Liam Buckley's preferred 4-3-3 strategy.
On top territorially, they went on to win the game with goals from Gavin Brennan and Peter Hynes, even surviving the discomfort of Ryan Brennan's 48th-minute dismissal.
Afterwards, Cooke said: "When we went down to 10 men, we maintained a very good shape. That discipline pleased me. So too did the spirit the lads showed.
"We have been keeping ourselves under the radar all season and now we are above it.
"People didn't give us much respect before the start of the season. But I knew the squad we had and knew we had good players. We are delighted to be where we are."
Their ascent to second yesterday comes down to two factors -- firstly Cooke's tactics and secondly the generosity of the Pat's defence.
For each goal the Pat's keepers were at fault, the first coming on 10 minutes when Barry Murphy dithered over a clearance and ended up getting dispossessed by Brennan, who scored the simplest of goals.
Two strikes of the crossbar later -- one by Drogheda's Alan Byrne, the second by Pat's forward Stephen O'Flynn -- and Murphy had to leave the field with a dislocated finger.
On came Brendan Clarke, but off went Ryan Brennan, dismissed for a rash tackle on James Chambers.
So down to 10 men, Cooke had to think quickly.
And he did -- introducing Hynes and going 4-3-2 -- a brave move but a sensible one as Pat's played with no width, little intelligence and even less pace.
"The initial tactics were designed to negate St Pat's. I prefer 4-4-2, but we had to change in order to give them the respect they deserve," Cooke explained.
"So we changed slightly, essentially to nullify Chambers. We still had our width, which has been the source of our success this season.
"When we went down to 10 men, we pushed our front men onto the wings because we were happy to leave two centre-backs on the ball."
For their part, Pat's didn't offer much going forward. Was fatigue a factor following their European adventure?
Manager Liam Buckley said: "I'm not going to make excuses because you have to be honest with yourself firstly. Players that come into the side need to know their job spec.
"It just didn't happen for us today. Maybe it was the kick up the backside we needed."
As for Cooke, maybe this was the break his Drogheda side needed.
"I would love to be in Europe like the other teams, but the fact we are not is definitely an advantage for us. We had 16 days since our last game. That worked in our favour," he said.
And so too did a mistake by Clarke in the 75th minute -- when Byrne's initial shot was then knocked in by sub Hynes.
From here, there was no way back for Pat's.
Cooke had the last word: "People have written us off all year. My advice is for them to keep dismissing us.
"And we will hopefully keep defying them."
St Pat's -- Murphy (Clarke 46); O'Brien, Flynn (Browne 45), Price, Bermingham; Forrester, Carroll, Bolger, Chambers, J Kelly (Flood 65); O'Flynn
Drogheda Utd -- Sava; McMahon, McNally, Prendergast, Hand; Brady (Hynes 53), Byrne, Crowley, R Brennan, G Brennan (Marks 70); O'Brien
Ref -- G Kelly (Cork).