Captain fantastic saves the day
SSE Airtricity League First Division: Wexford 1 Drogheda Utd 2
Sometimes it really is all about grinding out a result and Drogheda United had to find a way to win ugly at Ferrycarrig Park last Friday evening.
Decimated by injuries, Tim Clancy's men looked to be in trouble when they conceded first to bottom club Wexford, but they turned things around before half-time and then had to dig in to preserve that slender advantage and secure a fourth consecutive victory.
Their sense of quiet satisfaction was multiplied afterwards as the news filtered through that four of Drogheda's five promotion rivals had dropped points the same night.
Ultimately, this was a game that won't live long in the memory, except perhaps for full debutant James Clarke and for Drogs captain Jake Hyland who scored the winning goal - his first since breaking his leg in the promotion play-off against Shelbourne last season.
There was a heart-warming moment in the aftermath of the 31st-minute strike as Hyland made a beeline for the away dugout where he embraced club physio David Cooke, in acknowledgement of the medic's work in getting him back playing inside six months.
The sprinkling of Drogs fans who battled their way through the bank holiday weekend traffic to make it to Wexford would have regarded this as a tricky assignment even before the respective line-ups were announced.
With six first-choice starters absent, including their two top scorers Mark Doyle and Stephen Meaney, the visitors lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with youngsters Luke Heeney and James Clarke both playing out of position on the flanks and Sean Brennan trying to lend support to lone striker Chris Lyons.
Kevin Doherty once again took charge of the dugout, with Clancy serving the second of a three-match ban, and the manager and his assistant would have been praying for no further injuries as they were only able to name four out of the seven permitted subs.
Drogheda had a stiff, chilly breeze at their backs in the first half and both teams took a long time to settle down, understandably in the Boynesiders' case due to the changes in personnel and formation.
The first goal attempt eventually arrived in the 14th minute when Brennan's 30-yard free kick was easily saved by Corey Chambers, but seconds later the ball was in the net at the other end.
Chambers, wearing a bandage on his forehead after taking a heavy knock the previous week, sent a long delivery towards Jack Doherty who took a couple of touches and then sent a cushioned pass through for Danny Furlong.
The Wexford native rounded the advancing keeper Luca Gratzer before rolling the ball to the net as Conor Kane tried in vain to make a block on the line.
Shaken into action, the Drogs immediately forced three consecutive corners, from which Luke McNally saw one header deflected wide and James Clarke hooked the ball over the bar from close range.
Brennan then played a one-two with Lyons and sent a 25-yard piledriver inches over the target, before the equalising goal arrived on 27 minutes.
Wexford won't be happy at how it was conceded on two counts. Firstly. their captain Chris Kenny needlessly bundled over Lyons as the Drogs forward tried to keep the ball in play on the sideline.
Then, when Brennan floated the resulting free kick into the six-yard area, Chambers completed mis-read the flight of the ball in the wind. It sailed over his outstretched arms and McNally timed his leap to perfection as he nodded home at the back post for 1-1.
Within 60 seconds the Drogs had the ball in the net again as James Brown's cross was turned in by Lyons who was, however, adjudged to be offside.
The lead goal only took a further three minutes to arrive, however. Not surprisingly, it came from the left side where Kane regularly seemed to have the freedom of Ferrycarrig Park. He advanced up towards the 18-yard line before squaring the ball into the path of Hyland whose first-time left-footed shot bounced in off Chambers' left-hand post.
In the latter stages of the first half Brennan sent a free kick wide after Heeney had been tripped in full flight, and McNally was off target with another header, while at one stage the Drogs put together about 25 passes in a row before winning a corner kick.
The second period began promisingly enough as Hyland took a pass from Cian Kavanagh and played a one-two with Clarke before crossing towards the unmarked Lyons who failed to make a clean connection with his head in the six-yard area.
Gratzer had barely touched the ball since picking the ball out of his net in the 15th minute, and he was spared any action just past the hour mark when Wexford won their first corner of the match, only for Doherty to slice his kick over the endline.
Jordan Adeyemo had replaced Kavanagh at this stage and the substitute tested Chambers after receiving a pass from Kane, and that attempt - with 25 minutes still to play - proved to be Drogheda's last.
Kevin Farragher came on for Lyons, who was feeling his hamstring, and inevitably the Drogs became less effective in attack and began to come under increased pressure in the latter stages.
Their defence got a little bit out of shape in the 68th minute after McNally received treatment and had to go off momentarily, and Wexford nearly took advantage as Doherty teed up Kenny whose shot rose narrowly over the bar.
However, there was a bigger scare for the visitors two minutes into added time when Kenny got on the end of a free kick and sliced his shot towards Furlong who volleyed just over the bar from six yards.
The away supporters played their part in those last few moments, hailing the efforts of Heeney as his graft earned an important throw-in to eat up a few more seconds.
It was certainly nervy at the finish, but given the plethora of injuries the Drogs were just happy to return home with another three points in the bag to keep their promotion push firmly on track.