Drogs give students lesson in finishing
SSE Airtricity League First Division: Drogheda Utd 2 UCD 0
Doubts surfaced about whether Drogheda United are sufficiently well equipped for a promotion push after the shock defeat by Cabinteely, but the Boynesiders came up with an instant response on Friday night.
They didn't need to produce their best performance of the season to overcome UCD, but it was still a pretty convincing victory and the result sees the Drogs return to the Division 1 summit on account of their superior goal difference.
The Students, who arrived at United Park unbeaten and top of the table, have held the Indian sign over Drogheda for many years and they won the equivalent fixture the season before last when the Boynesiders last plied their trade in the second tier.
Following the result in Cabinteely, the Drogheda squad also had to deal with the unwanted attention directed at the club following Luke Rossiter's highly controversial tweet about the Belfast rape case.
This was a big test of character, but manager Tim Clancy made only one change to the starting XI, recalling Sean Brennan at the expense of Kealan Dillon after the Rathmullen native's recent injury.
Drogheda native Collie O'Neill's appearance in the away dugout gave this fixture added intrigue, as he almost took the job of managing his home-town club before eventually turning it down, paving the way for Tim Clancy's arrival.
O'Neill's team were on the back foot initially as an early run and shot by left-back Conor Kane signalled Drogheda's attacking intentions.
Lee Duffy couldn't climb high enough to get a decisive header on a whipped cross by Gareth McCaffrey, and the latter was then foiled by an offside flag after a slick move involving Duffy, Luke Gallagher and Mark Doyle.
UCD forced a corner from which Liam Scales headed over the bar from Kevin Coffey's delivery, but on 18 minutes Richie Purdy almost popped up with a goal-of-the-season contender.
Duffy and Sean Brennan combined to release him some 30 yards out and the former Shamrock Rovers man unleashed a venomous drive that was finger-tipped over the bar by Conor Kearns.
Shortly after, Brennan's long-range volley didn't dip sufficiently to trouble the keeper, but Drogheda were then fortunate not to fall behind against the run of play.
Daire O'Connor did brilliantly to dribble along the byeline and when his cross was fortuitously deflected back into his path he bundled the ball into the net, only to have the effort ruled out for offside.
That marked the start of a good spell by the Students and a typically smart passing move involving Jason McClelland and Gary O'Neill ended with O'Connor being denied by Purdy's block.
Drogheda looked certain to fall behind in the 27th minute when Paul Doyle fended off a Jake Hyland challenge and crossed into the six-yard box for the unmarked Georgie Kelly. The big striker's first touch was good, but he then fired too close to keeper Paul Skinner who in fairness had spread himself well to make a good save.
Sixty seconds later it was the UCD goal which led a charmed life as Drogheda won a corner from which Brennan's delivery should have been planted in the net by McCaffrey. However, the forward somehow managed to head over from inside the six-yard box.
A mis-cued clearance by Drogs centre-half Ciaran Kelly gifted a sight of goal to Coffey in the 35th minute, but the UCD man snatched at the opportunity and volleyed high over the bar.
On the restart UCD almost caught Drogheda on the hop within 20 seconds as O'Connor played the ball up to Georgie Kelly whose mis-hit shot was scrambled round the post by Skinner, and the keeper then had to cling onto a McClelland drive, diving to his right.
Those Kelly misses either side of the break came back to haunt UCD in the 52nd minute when the Boynesiders finally broke the deadlock.
Gallagher, playing at right-back, initially won possession in midfield with a great tackle and surged forward, playing a one-two with Duffy before rolling the ball inside to McCaffrey who fired decisively past Kearns.
McClelland responded instantly with a long-range shot that didn't trouble Skinner, but already UCD seemed to be running out of ideas on how to unlock Drogheda's well organised defence.
Then, entering the last quarter, the Boynesiders' potent strikeforce came up with the goods again.
Skinner's clearance kick was flicked on by Purdy towards Brennan, who up to that point was having a game of mixed fortunes. At that moment he produced a touch of class, however, as his perfectly weighted pass released the onrushing Duffy.
The fleet-footed number 7 was himself having a night to forget, but he too came good at the right time as he accelerated away from his marker before driving an angled 18-yard shot past Kearns for 2-0.
With more than 20 minutes to go Drogheda already looked home and hosed and they seemed happy to soak up any pressure from UCD in the latter stages.
The Students did create a couple of scoring opportunities, but Skinner wasn't seriously tested and a stoppage-time header by Scales rose over the crossbar to ensure the goalkeeper kept a coveted clean sheet.