Close call as Drogs weather Cab storm
Soccer SSE Airtricity League First Division: Drogheda United 2 Cabinteely 0
Drogheda United found Cabinteely to be sticky opponents last Friday evening - just like the humid weather conditions - but came through a tough test with flying colours to step up their title challenge.
The men from Stradbrook are an enigma in the First Division, struggling in the wrong half of the table and yet with victories over the top three clubs in previous games this season.
Before kick-off on Friday the Drogs knew they couldn't be complacent, having tasted defeat when the clubs last met in March, and Richie Purdy's selection in place of the suspended Lee Duffy was the only change to Tim Clancy's starting line-up.
Cabinteely started this game as if they meant business, confidence oozing after beating leaders UCD seven days earlier, and they fired an early warning shot - albeit well wide of the target - through Luke Clukas.
Their centre-back Conor Keeley headed wide under pressure from a Dean Casey corner, while the Boynesiders' first goal attempt was a low shot from Chris Lyons which was comfortably held by ex Drogs keeper Stephen McGuinness.
The home side were unlucky not to open their account on 13 minutes when Sean Brennan's inswinging near-post corner was met by the head of Kevin Farragher whose looping effort dropped just over the bar.
Around the 20-minute mark Cabinteely had a good spell of pressure, at the end of which Conor Earley blasted a 25-yard shot too high and Jack Watson sliced wide from just outside the box.
However, Drogheda should have gone ahead moments later when Mark Doyle seized on a loose pass and quickly released Brennan in the box. The former captain seemed caught in two minds, whether to shoot or pass to the supporting Lyons, and in the end his shot was weak and failed to trouble McGuinness.
This was proving to be an energy-sapping contest as the physically strong Cabinteely competed hard for every ball, but crucially it was Drogheda who broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute.
Another pinpoint Brennan corner was nodded down by Farragher in the six-yard area and Lyons was lurking in just the right place to poke the ball past McGuinness from close range.
The Drogs had an opportunity to double their advantage soon after as Luke Gallagher released the ever-willing Colm Deasy, but on this occasion the full-back overcooked his cross to the back post and Conor Kane was unable to control the ball at full stretch.
A slightly mis-judged header by Drogs centre-half Ciaran Kelly led to a half-chance for Cabo just before half-time, but Clucas pulled his 20-yard shot well wide of the target.
On the restart the Drogs pressed forward for a short spell, but no clear-cut openings resulted and gradually Cabinteely took control of the game, pinning their hosts back in their own penalty area.
On 56 minutes Doyle popped up on his own goal-line to nod clear from a Keeley header following a corner kick taken by half-time substitute Kieran Marty Waters, and shortly after Drogheda were lucky to clear their lines when Brennan ill-advisedly tried to dribble out of Drogheda's six-yard box and was dispossessed.
Whereas referee Andrew Mullaly seemed to award the home side a succession of handy frees in the first half, his decisions were now going in favour of Cabinteely and the regular breaks in play resulted in an increasingly scrappy encounter.
Nevertheless, Jake Hyland was unlucky to see his glancing header from a Brennan free kick drop just over the crossbar.
For all Cabo's probing, Drogs keeper Paul Skinner hadn't had a save to make - until the 67th minute, that is, when he diverted a Jack Tuite effort round the post from close range.
The remaining quarter featured plenty of goalmouth action and Deasy had a shot blocked by Kevin Knight after latching onto a Hyland pass.
At the other end a foul by Kane on Keith Dalton resulted in a Cabo free kick 25 yards out, and Skinner was forced to tip Earley's shot over the bar.
Clukas should have done better when Waters' free kick dropped invitingly in the box, but the striker couldn't adjust his feet quickly enough and the ball ran harmlessly through to Skinner.
Gareth McCaffrey had replaced Lyons in the Drogheda attack and the number 10 chested a Deasy throw into the path of Brennan whose shot was deflected through to McGuinness. Then the energetic Deasy got forward once again and sent a long-range effort narrowly wide.
However, Drogheda had a big scare in the 82nd minute when Dalton whipped in a brilliant cross to the back post where Waters was inches away from getting a decisive touch past Skinner.
That led to a lightning counter-attack as McCaffrey released Doyle who took on his marker before firing a firm shot straight at McGuinness.
On 86 minutes it was Waters' turn to have a sight of the Drogheda goal, but again he couldn't connect properly and Skinner wasn't tested.
The home side were getting in behind the Cabo defence now and a sweet passing move involving Purdy, McCaffrey and Hyland ended with Doyle firing over the crossbar.
Then Deasy battled to win possession in midfield and moved the ball quickly up to McCaffrey whose attempted angled chip failed to hit the target.
Cabo must have been boosted the sight of the fourth official's board, indicating a generous five minutes of stoppage time, but it was Drogheda who finally put the game to bed during that period - and in fine style.
Hyland worked the ball wide to McCaffrey who could have been forgiven for running the clock down by the corner flag, but instead he delivered an inch-perfect driven low cross to the back post where Doyle arrived on cue to blast to the net.
For a team who have little hope of competing for the play-off positions, Cabinteely put in an admirable shift and they certainly made Drogheda sweat for their win, but that made the result all the more satisfying.
Cabo have to play three of the other promotion contenders this month - Longford Town, Shelbourne and then Finn Harps - and it would be no big surprise if they picked up a few points in those games to boost the Boynesiders' prospects still further.