Tuesday 19 March 2019

Doolin's nightmare as super Drogs stun Cork

ALAN Mathews defeated Paul Doolin in the battle between the two managers facing their former clubs as Drogheda United stunned Cork City with a thrilling victory in this mid-week showdown.

And the manner in which the Boynesiders achieved their first home league win of the season was every bit as satisfying, as they out-fought and out-played their full-time opponents to boost their survival prospects considerably.

The only disappointment was that so many fans voted with their feet and stayed away on a brilliant summer's evening, and the number of paying spectators was the lowest league crowd at United Park since Drogheda's return to the Premier Division.

Prospects of a home win looked bleak when the team sheet showed Gavin Whelan, Ian Ryan and keeper Steve Williams – hero of the previous drawn game at Shamrock Rovers – all absent through injury, although Paul Crowley did start after serving a ban.

Those fans who did turn up found their voice after only eight minutes when James Chambers – playing at right-back in place of Ryan – whipped in a superb corner from the left and Conor Kenna rose highest at the near post to arrow a brilliant header past ex Drogheda keeper Dan Connor.

Teams are often most vulnerable when they've just scored, but successive blocks from Alan McNally and Kenna on Billy Dennehy and Denis Behan ensured that Paul Skinner in the Drogheda goal wasn't seriously tested, and Fahrudin Kuduzovic was well off target with a long-distance volley on 18 minutes.

Cork seemed to miss the influence of their injured playmaker Joe Gamble, and for the remainder of the first half they posed no threat whatsoever, apart from a Stephen O'Donnell shot that trickled through to Skinner.

In the 34th minute Drogheda could have been in dreamland when O'Donnell was dispossessed by Crowley whose clear run on goal was cynically ended by Greg O'Halloran 25 yards out.

Referee Hanney dished out a yellow card, even though the covering defender probably wouldn't have reached Crowley in time, and Cork otherwise went unpunished as Chambers' free kick flew wide of the target.

O'Halloran then made a timely intervention to block Shane Barrett's shot after Jamie Duffy intercepted Dan Murray's pass and teed up the Enfield native.

Skinner was finally tested two minutes after the restart when he scrambled across his goal to block a Colin Healy effort that deflected off McNally and spun awkwardly towards the net.

But that save was straightforward compared to the one made by his opposite number three minutes later. Chambers' free kick was nodded down by Kenna into the path of Crowley whose shot from point-blank range was brilliantly parried by Connor.

Then Barrett's nifty footwork on the left flank created a chance for Paul Shiels who sliced his shot well wide. That prompted a change by Doolin, with Guntars Siligailis coming on to lend support to Behan, and the move seemed to bear fruit. Suddenly Cork were making all the running and looking dangerous.

Drogheda had a let-off when Behan teed up Murray whose brilliant volley crashed off the bar, but a minute later Siligailis lost his marker from a Colin Healy free, and although Skinner parried the Latvian's header, Murray bundled the rebound to the net.

For a 10-minute spell it seemed Cork might go on to win, as Skinner saved a Murray header and Healy shot wide from 25 yards. Given the physical strain of playing two games in 20-degree heat in three days, you feared for Drogheda's part-timers.

Somehow they found another gear, and on 79 minutes yet another Chambers free kick dropped invitingly for substitute Davie O'Connor who delayed his shot and was crowded out.

The winner arrived from Drogheda's next attack, set in motion by Brian King's searching pass for Duffy. He out-paced Danny Murphy and his ball across goal bounced off a defender into the path of O'Connor 15 yards out. This time the 24-year-old acted decisively and rolled the ball past the despairing dive of keeper Connor to send the home fans into ecstasy.

Cork looked a beaten team after that, and Drogheda had four chances to add to their tally in the final five minutes. Duffy and O'Connor had their efforts blocked, and Barrett was denied by Connor after creating the chance himself.

A wonderful victory for Drogheda, which hopefully will help draw a considerably bigger crowd for their next home game on Friday week.