Boynesiders fate sealed in Buncrana
SSE Airtricity Premier Division: Derry City 2 Drogheda United 1
Drogheda United's relegation straight back to the First Division has been a foregone conclusion for a couple of months and the mathematicians now agree following events in Buncrana on Friday last.
Needing to end their 18-match winless streak in the league to earn another week's stay of execution, the Boynesiders' fate was effectively sealed inside a quarter of an hour as Derry helped themselves to a brace of goals.
Missing seven players through injury or suspension, including six likely starters, there was still hope of putting it up to a struggling Derry side who had been hammered 5-0 at home by Bray Wanderers just seven days earlier.
Perhaps the strain of dealing with the emotions of losing their captain Ryan McBride hours after Drogheda's last visit to Maginn Park in March have taken its toll on the Candystripes in recent weeks.
Yet Pete Mahon's game plan, part of which was to keep things tight in the early stages, was in tatters after only three minutes.
Drogheda, playing into a near-gale, tried to play the ball short but lost possession some 35 yards from goal and Rory Patterson tried to release his on-rushing right-back Conor McDermott down the flank.
Conor Kane was alert to the danger but in passing back to his keeper from barely 10 yards away the teenager left the ball short and McDermott toe-poked it past Stephen McGuinness before rolling to the empty net.
That was an absolute hammer blow for Drogheda, but they rolled up their sleeves and played their way into the game, only to concede again from what was only Derry's second attack of the night.
The Boynesiders were actually threatening moments before, but Shane Elworthy lost his footing on the 18-yard line and the home side cleared quickly up to Barry McNamee in the centre circle.
McNamee, who scored a hat-trick in this fixture back in March, wasn't nearly as effective this time, but he made his most important contribution at that moment. With Richie Purdy sticking to him like glue at his back, the number 7 still managed to get his pass away to Patterson.
Drogheda looked stretched then and Patterson released McDermott who crossed from the right for Ronan Curtis to fire past McGuinness from point-blank range.
The Candystripes, looking to secure European football next season, might have fancied themselves to go on and give their goal difference a significant boost, but instead this very spirited Drogheda team refused to lie down.
Stephen Elliott's nifty footwork created a shooting chance for Richie Purdy whose 25-yard effort was held low to his left by Ger Doherty.
Past the 20-minute mark the hosts did create two further opportunities, both from Curtis assists, but Patterson blazed over the bar and McDermott then headed wide.
Someone let off a few fireworks in the vicinity of Maginn Park and Drogheda were doing their best to create some of their own. On 32 minutes Kane got forward and released Purdy who played a great one-two with Elliott and strode menacingly into the box.
However, just as he shaped to shoot, Ben Doherty appeared from nowhere and made a superbly timed challenge to dispossess the Drogs' midfielder.
Seconds later the Derry winger was making his mark at the other end, putting Curtis through on goal, but McGuinness stood up well and made a fine save to deny the striker.
Purdy had lengthy treatment following Curtis' high challenge which resulted in a booking, but he was back on his feet in time to block a McNamee shot.
Drogheda then went on the attack and Adam Wixted lofted a cross to the back post for Sean Brennan, who held off the challenge of Dean Jarvis and fired towards the near post, only for Ger Doherty to make another smart save.
At the other end McNamee and Patterson both fired over the bar, but right on half-time the Boynesiders created another good scoring chance. The sniping Elliott did brilliantly to dispossess Harry Monaghan and Brennan then took over before releasing Wixted down the right. The winger hit an inviting centre into the six-yard area but unfortunately nobody could get a decisive touch to take the ball past Doherty.
With wind advantage in the second half, Drogheda's Colm Deasy tried to make good use of it as he launched a 25-yard shot which flew over the bar.
However, Derry substitute Lukas Schubert should have increased his side's lead when he headed a Patterson cross over the top.
Drogheda became more and more dominant as the second half wore on, however, and on the hour mark they nearly halved the deficit when Aaron Barry stuck out a leg to knock Wixted's near-post cross behind, via the outside of the post.
Derry still posed a threat on the counter-attack, but Curtis saw his effort deflected into the side netting and Monaghan headed wide from another Curtis centre.
Seconds later Drogheda thought they'd finally scored when Brennan broke from midfield and released Elworthy and his cross picked out Elliott whose superb header was brilliantly clawed away by keeper Doherty.
The visitors' defence then allowed Ben Doherty to run unchallenged from half-way before shooting straight at McGuinness, the Candystripes' first shot on target in more than an hour.
However, McGuinness was quickly called into action again, keeping out a Monaghan header after a floated cross from Nicky Low.
Heavy rain in the latter stages made conditions more difficult, but still Wixted was guilty of a glaring miss on the 90-minute mark as his glancing header from substitute Mark Doyle's cross flew wide, with only Doherty to beat.
In stopping time Derry could have scored a third goal when McNamee took advantage of a Lloyd Buckley error, only to stab the ball off the upright, and instead of falling 3-0 behind the Drogs made the scoreline considerably more respectable with virtually the last kick of the game.
After a foul on Ryan Masterson, Brennan's delivery caused confusion in the home defence and the ball sat up nicely for Doyle who fired decisively past Doherty for a deserved consolation.