Drogheda hit high notes with big finish
Soccer, SSE Airtricity League First Division: Drogheda Utd 2 Wexford 1
Opera classic Nessun Dorma was a surprise inclusion on the pre-match play list at United Park last Friday and its English translation 'None shall sleep' summed up the frantic final minutes of this entertaining fixture.
With the scoreline at 1-1 Drogheda collectively couldn't rest until they'd mustered a winner, but it was well into stoppage time when Mark Doyle found a way through to score the decisive goal for the second week running and break the hearts of 10-man Wexford.
You couldn't help but feel sorry for Brian O'Sullivan's charges, who put it up to the Drogs for long spells and played with great energy and commitment, no doubt bolstered by their shock victory over Bray Wanderers the week before.
Crucially, though, they lost one of their key defenders to a second yellow card with nine minutes remaining and Drogheda eventually made them pay the ultimate price.
The Boynesiders scored eight goals when these teams met 12 months ago, but this is a vastly different Wexford team and the visitors went closest to an early breakthrough when Ryan Nolan curled a free kick into the side netting following a foul on Jack Doherty.
However, Drogheda quickly settled down and made the most of their first opportunity in the ninth minute to break the deadlock.
From a corner kick Sean Brennan rolled the ball short to Chris Lyons who teased his marker before turning sharply towards the byeline. The defender lost his footing in trying to stay with the number 9 and Lyons had time to look up before dinking a cross towards Luke Gallagher who planted the simplest of headers past Corey Chambers from six yards.
Lyons, who was left out of the starting XI the week before owing to hamstring trouble, looked all the better for that rest and his appetite for the ball was stronger than ever.
By the 11th minute Wexford centre-half Sean Callan was in the book for bringing Lyons down right on the edge of the box, and Brennan fired over the bar from the resulting free kick.
Another slick move involving Mark Hughes and Lyons ended with the latter being barged over by Callan again and this time Brennan's kick was deflected towards Lyons whose powerful shot was very well parried by Chambers.
Superb one-touch passes from Brennan and Lyons then put Mark Doyle through, but he was thwarted by a fine block from Darragh O'Connor as the Drogs looked to turn the screw.
However, Doherty was unlucky to see a free kick from 35 yards out sail just over Drogs keeper Paul Skinner's crossbar after a foul on Danny Doyle.
Callan was walking a tightrope already at this stage as he brought down Lyons for a third time, resulting in yet another free which Brennan pulled to the left of the target.
Wexford, though, were about to stun United Park into silence. Having won their first corner kick of the game in the 35th minute, Danny Doyle swung the ball in, Callan headed goal-wards and after a bit of ping-pong in the box captain Owen McCormack fired past Skinner from eight yards.
Drogheda perhaps should have restored their lead immediately as Gallagher and Lyons worked the ball forward to Brennan who set up Mark Doyle. The Skerries man should have had a go himself but opted to square to Lyons who couldn't get a clean shot away as he was squeezed down by two defenders.
Lyons then fired across goal from yet another Brennan assist, before Cian Kavanagh - who was having a decent game at the heart of midfield - sent a long-range free kick over the bar following another cynical foul, this time on Hughes.
It was more of the same after the change of ends as shots rained down on the Wexford goal. Luke McNally was the first to threaten, before a Brennan half-volley just missed the junction of post and crossbar.
Mark Doyle then tried to pick out Lyons, only for Callan to make a crucial block, and Conor Kane got forward to set up Mark Doyle whose firmly struck shot was well held by Chambers as Lyons lurked, ready to pounce on any rebound.
The striker's patience boiled over when he was booked for dissent, having had penalty claims turned down following another Callan challenge, but he kept going and his next contribution was a powerful shot which produced another fine parry from Chambers.
Bookings for Kevin Farragher and Kane indicated that Wexford posed a threat on the counter-attack, though, and the visitors certainly weren't content to hold on for a point.
Their best move of the second half ended with a cross from Danny Doyle and a looping header from Paddy Cahill that was clutched under the bar by Skinner, while another Cahill header - from a Doherty corner - was directed wide of the target.
A partially blocked Chambers clearance put the Wexford defence in trouble and Mark Doyle immediately played the ball to Brennan in the box, but some typical trickery from the skipper failed to create space for a shot as he was dispossessed.
Drogheda were beginning to run out of ideas at that stage, but in the 81st minute Callan left his foot high going into a challenge with Mark Doyle and got his marching orders for a second booking.
That curtailed Wexford's counter-attacking intentions and they decided to hold on to what they had, defending for all their lives in a tense finish.
Cahill's yellow card for kicking the ball out of the ground to delay a free kick summed up their approach, but as the clock ticked into stoppage time it seemed a hard-earned point would be theirs.
There was to be one final twist, though, as Gallagher sent a long kick into opposition territory and substitute Stephen Meaney made a nuisance of himself in the air, allowing the ball to run on to Mark Doyle.
The striker bore down on goal, and from almost the same position that he scored the winner in Galway the week before he drove the ball low and hard past Chambers to send the home fans into raptures.