Big blow as misfiring Drogs are eclipsed
Wexford 0 Drogheda United 0
Friday night promised a spectacular lunar eclipse and three more valuable points for Drogheda United, but heavy cloud cover disappointed stargazers and Wexford tore up the footballing script at a rain-lashed Ferrycarrig Park.
On the ground where the Boynesiders scored eight goals on their last visit, the ruthless finishing was absent and their managerless hosts - down to 10 men for most of the second half - hung on for a richly deserved share of the spoils.
How this disappointing result affects Drogheda's push for promotion remains to be seen, but in terms of any title ambitions this must be close to a fatal blow as UCD now have a seven-point lead at the top with five games remaining.
A win in Wexford would have put Tim Clancy's men eight points clear of Galway in fifth place ahead of their visit to United Park this week, but now the Tribesmen will feel they are capable of catching the Drogs if they can eke out on Friday.
It all points to a battle for the play-off spots that will go down to the wire, and those upcoming home games against Galway and Longford in particular will go a long way towards deciding Drogheda's fate.
Last Friday they were stepping into the unknown in a sense as Wexford started with just two of the team who were annihilated back in March, and from an early stage it was clear that the home side weren't going to go down without a fight.
The heavens had opened as the teams came out for the warm-up and the deluge continued well into the first half, and in the circumstances the two teams put on a decent spectacle.
Sean Brennan, who scored two spectacular free kicks in the 8-1 game, had a similar opportunity after just four minutes but this time was denied by a water-tight defensive wall and that was the story of the first half as the Drogs struggled to find a way through a well-drilled Wexford defence.
Shots, well, rained down on Corey Chambers, but most of them were from distance and he didn't have too many difficult saves to make, helped by some resolute defending in front of him.
Gareth McCaffrey, for example, saw his 12th-minute piledriver blocked by Wexford debutant Dean Walsh, their lone striker on loan from Waterford, who had tracked back to help out his back four.
Indeed, it was the home side who had the best effort on goal in the opening 20 minutes as Dean George saw his 25-yard snap shot well held by Paul Skinner at his near post.
Controversy erupted on the half-hour mark when Chris Lyons seemed to have his legs clipped by Sean Kelly just inside the Wexford box. Kelly had been booked for upending the livewire forward moments earlier, but this time referee Dunne decided the Drogheda player had gone down too easily and it was he who went into the notebook to the Boynesiders' annoyance.
The visitors' frustration grew as McCaffrey lifted a clever cross into the box towards Jake Hyland, but the skipper opted to take a touch instead of hitting the ball on the volley and then couldn't get a clean shot on goal.
Kevin Farragher, one of the few Drogheda players not to score this season, tried his luck from 30 yards and sliced a poor effort well wide, before Brennan curled a shot straight at Chambers.
Walsh responded with an audacious 40-yard attempted lob which had Skinner frantically back-pedalling as the ball eventually cleared the bar, but the Drogs finished the half well on top and a well-struck Brennan volley was parried away by Chambers before a superb Conor Kane cross fizzed across the six-yard area with no takers.
On the restart there was no change to the pattern of play, with Drogheda owning the ball for long spells but lacking sufficient quality in the Wexford penalty area.
McCaffrey was foiled again by a defensive block, this time from Kelly, and Colm Deasy saw his slightly over-hit cross bounce off the bar.
Then Mark Doyle intercepted a poor Chambers clearance and tried to round the keeper who eventually managed to block his weak shot.
Wexford were reduced to 10 men on 52 minutes after Lyons made a darting run towards the box and was tripped again by Kelly, leaving the referee no option but to issue a second yellow card.
However, the resulting free kick from Brennan was blocked, a sliced defensive clearance by their defender Owen McCormack flew narrowly wide and McCaffrey then saw his header from point-blank range somehow scrambled off the line.
At the other end Drogheda had a scare when a miscued header by Ciaran Kelly led to a glimpse of goal for Walsh, but the defender got back and did just enough to prevent the striker from getting a shot in, with only Skinner to beat.
Wexford supporters in the small crowd were in full voice, beginning to believe that their favourites could hold on for a point at the least, and their optimism grew when Lee Duffy pulled his shot wide and a Brennan effort cannoned off a teammate and flew the wrong side of the post.
Still, with more than 20 minutes remaining, the Drogs would have been fancied to break the deadlock against 10 men.
Brennan played a one-two with Kane and sent another well-struck shot just over the bar, but Wexford were becoming increasingly resilient - and confident - and they forced their first corner in the 77th minute from which Sean Smithers tested Skinner with a snap shot.
Perhaps Drogheda's clearest opening yet presented itself on 80 when Duffy took a pass from Colm Deasy and turned sharply in the box to give himself a yard of space, only to shoot too close to Chambers who blocked with his leg.
That miss seemed to suck some of the life out of Drogheda and Wexford defended superbly in the latter stages.
At full stretch Lyons did manage to get a toe to Brennan's chipped pass, but Chambers saved easily and the 10 men held out quite comfortably in the remaining time which included four minutes added on for stoppages.
At the final whistle Wexford were, well, over the moon, while Drogheda were left to wonder why they had been eclipsed by the second-from-bottom team in the division.