Boynesiders draw comfort
Soccer SSE Airtricity League First Division: Drogheda Utd 1 Shelbourne 1
After their Tolka Park nightmare earlier in the week, Drogheda United restored their reputation with a hard-earned point at home to Shelbourne on Friday night.
Of the two games, this was the one that mattered most and Drogs boss Tim Clancy reverted to the team that convincingly beat Cobh the previous weekend, thereby changing his entire starting XI from Tuesday night.
But despite having his strongest side out, there was an energy and power about Shelbourne's play straight from the first whistle which Clancy's men hadn't encountered previously this season. It took full concentration and some resolute defending to keep Drogheda's goal intact as their opponents took a firm grip of proceedings.
Nevertheless, a moment's hesitation by Conor Kane handed Shels their first real chance in the 10th minute as the league's top scorer David O'Sullivan was onto the loose ball in a flash. Thankfully, Drogs keeper Paul Skinner had spotted the danger and made a vital block.
Shels looked certain to hit the front in the 14th minute when a cross was arrowed in towards Adam Evans, but Colm Deasy did just enough to put the number 7 off his stride and his header from point-blank range sailed off in the direction of the corner flag.
Alan Byrne, the 34-year-old former Drogs player, then flashed a header wide from a Gavin Boyne free kick, before right-back James Brown ran onto an O'Sullivan back-heel and had a low, angled shot deflected narrowly wide.
So there was some relief when Drogheda finally conjured a chance of their own on 24 minutes. Lee Duffy's brilliant first touch to control Ciaran Kelly's long ball took him past Byrne and the winger then unleashed a powerful 25 yard shot that fizzed just wide of the right-hand upright.
Then Sean Brennan took a pass from Deasy and sent a brilliant low ball out towards the left flank. Brown tried to intercept but missed and that let in Mark Doyle behind him, but his first touch was heavy and the chance evaporated.
Deasy and Chris Lyons then combined to set up Doyle again and this time he got a decent shot away which was parried by Shels keeper Dean Delany.
Drogheda were bossing the exchanges now and Duffy went off on a mesmerising run from his own half, beating at least three defenders before sending an 18-yard shot wide. That would have been Goal of the Season had it gone in.
The home side were completely out of luck on 41 minutes when Brennan released Jake Hyland whose brilliant attempted chip from 20 yards bounced off the crossbar before being scrambled clear.
Another former Drog, Derek Prendergast, ventured forward to test Skinner from distance and a breathless first half ended with a Brennan free kick from very long range that was easily held by Delany.
On the restart Drogheda continued to hold the upper hand and a Brennan corner was met with a downward header from Doyle that Delany clutched on the line.
Shels made their first change on the hour, bringing on EA Sports Cup hat-trick hero Jamie Doyle was was immediately into the action with a ferocious snap shot that was bravely blocked by Kevin Farragher.
James English and Byrne had half-chances for the visitors from headers and a promising Drogheda attack ended with a blocked shot from Richie Purdy.
Then, on 72 minutes, came the breakthrough. Brennan swept the ball wide to the advancing Deasy who squared across the edge of the box towards Mark Doyle. He took a touch into the box, cleverly drawing a challenge from Byrne who brought him down.
Referee David Keeler seemed to indicate for a free kick initially but eventually awarded a penalty on the advice of his assistant on the North Road side of the pitch and Brennan coolly slotted the spot kick away with a low effort to Delany's right.
The goal set up a frantic last 20 minutes, with Shels pushing hard and their hosts showing equal inclination to attack. Indeed, after Evans had toe-poked wide for the visitors, both Drogheda full-backs were involved in the home side's next scoring opportunity.
Kane did well to set Doyle away on the left and the resulting cross was met by Deasy who sliced the ball into the side netting.
Shelbourne's 84th-minute equaliser didn't stem from the Drogs' attacking intent, though. Clancy will bemoan his side's inability to close down English as he drifted inside off the left wing, but the Shels man had a degree of good fortune as his subsequent shot took a slight touch off Deasy before nestling just inside the post for 1-1.
Neither side were content with a point and both pushed hard for a winner to no avail as both defences held firm under pressure.
Right at the death, though, Shels almost snatched victory when English crossed from the right and substitute Shane Farrell's exquisite back heel bounced wide and just out of reach of Jamie Doyle who was lurking nearby.
That was a huge escape for Drogheda, but over the 90 minutes a draw was a fair outcome and the Boynesiders remain unbeaten on their own patch this season.