Monday 18 December 2017

Drogs draw little comfort from result

Drogheda’s Philip Hand tracks the run of Dean Clarke.
Drogheda’s Philip Hand tracks the run of Dean Clarke.

SATURDAY's latest stalemate at Hunky Dorys Park boosted Drogheda United's 'Draws' column still further as two points went begging for the umpteenth time this season.

There have been 14 draws, to be exact, and had the FAI Cup finalists managed to turn those into wins they'd be lying second in the table instead of languishing in eighth spot.

This was another night where they were the better side and deserved to win, but as on many previous occasions some of their finishing was poor and one defensive lapse also proved costly.

Manager Mick Cooke was happy enough afterwards, however, rightly pointing out that the performance level was good and that there were no fresh injury concerns ahead of next month's Cup decider.

Peter Hynes enjoyed a rare start as top scorer Declan O'Brien was rested, and the big man could easily have helped himself to four or five goals as he looked considerably sharper than in previous outings.

In only the third minute he let fly with a crisp 25-yard shot that was well held by UCD netminder Conor O'Donnell, and seconds later Drogheda might have had a penalty as Gavin Brennan's driven cross seemed to strike a defender on the hand.

It was all Drogheda in these early stages and they made it count with a fine goal in the 10th minute. Gavin Brennan galloped down the left flank and ghosted past two covering defenders before delivering a tempting near-post cross. The UCD backline stood flat-footed as Hynes rose unchallenged to plant a close-range header beyond O'Donnell.

If UCD had thought the Boynesiders would be focused more on Aviva Stadium than a meaningless league match, then they now had their answer, and over the next 20 minutes Drogheda should have added to their tally as the Students struggled to gain a foothold in the game.

Graham Rusk, who like Hynes played himself into contention for Cup Final day, was very influential and he played a lovely one-two with Ryan Brennan before driving the ball over the bar shortly after Hynes' goal.

UCD did have two chances from rare attacks in the opening quarter, Sean Russell having a shot blocked by Alan Byrne before the same player had a free kick effort well saved by Gabriel Sava low to his right.

But Drogheda quickly responded as Rusk embarked on another enterprising run before finding Gavin Brennan, this time on the right, and the winger's cross was diverted wide by Hynes from point-blank range.

A foul on Ryan Brennan handed the Boynesiders a free kick 25 yards out and Hynes stepped forward with a well-struck effort that O'Donnell did well to clutch down by his right-hand post.

Out of nothing the visitors almost conjured an equaliser courtesy of a speculative Craig Walsh 30-yard shot which struck the outside of the post, with Sava well beaten, but a minute later Rusk seized on a defensive lapse at the other end and drove narrowly over the bar.

Drogheda looked comfortable at the back at this stage, perhaps too comfortable, because a lapse in concentration cost them dearly on 34 minutes.

There seemed little danger when Robbie Benson received the ball in the box, with his back to goal and three defenders around him, but despite being off balance the striker managed to shake off Michael Daly before rifling a 12-yard shot to the roof of the net.

The clock had just ticked past half-an-hour at that stage, and there were no further clear-cut chances until past the 50-minute mark when Hynes and Rusk combined to put Ryan Brennan through on goal, but O'Donnell was off his line quickly to make a brave save at the Rathmullen native's feet.

That resulted in the first of four consecutive corners as the Boynesiders attempted to turn the screw, and from the third of those Hynes met Paul O'Conor's delivery with a header that struck the crossbar before being scrambled clear.

Only Derry City have scored more goals away from home than UCD this season, however, and the Students served a reminder of their threat on the counter-attack on two occasions in quick succession.

On 55 minutes they created a four-on-three overlap, only to waste the opportunity when Walsh elected to shoot from distance, with the ball drifting wide, and then James Kavanagh's head just failed to get a decisive touch to Russell's near-post corner.

After a lull in proceedings the entertainment level picked up considerably in the closing 10 minutes as Drogheda went in search of a late winner. That said, it was UCD who had the first opening in the latter stages as substitute Samir Belhout was inches away from diverting Russell's teasing cross to the net.

The action switched quickly to the Anneville Crescent end where Alan McNally latched onto a half-cleared corner and crossed for Byrne whose downward header forced O'Donnell into a fine save low to his left.

And there were three further chances for Drogheda in stoppage time. Superb approach play by Daly led to a shot from Gavin Brennan which was deflected behind, and from the short corner that followed Brennan drifted in-field before driving a shot into the side netting.

The final opportunity fell to left-back Philip Hand who had a pop at goal from 30 yards, but the impressive O'Donnell stood firm and UCD hung on for a precious point in their ongoing battle to avoid relegation.

Drogheda Independent

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