Gallagher grabs the winner for Drogheda
Drogheda United 2 Cobh Ramblers 1
The first fixture following the mid-season break is a potential banana skin for any and all LOI teams - just ask UCD!
So when Tim Clancy spoke last week about his side requiring full focus and making sure they were primed to hit the ground running, he wasn't exaggerating.
For the first time, that this journalist can remember anyway, water breaks were used in a Friday night game at United Park, such is the exceptional weather we are having.
It was just another element of consideration for the team. Then taking into account that Cobh were on a small winning streak of their own while Drogheda were coming off the back of a three game winless streak, Friday's game was very much set up to be a real test.
Coming through with a well-earned 2-1 win, Drogheda closed the gap to league leaders UCD to just four points and once again re-opened the race for automatic promotion. With home fixtures against Harps next week and Shels the following week, The Drogs have a chance to create a gap and more importantly build some momentum heading into the business end of the season.
Sean Brennan and Jake Hyland were suspended for Friday while Conor Kane was ruled out through injury. Luke Gallagher returned to centre back with Ciaran Kelly filling in at left back. Kealan Dillon and Gareth McCaffrey were in the starting XI as Clancy opted for a 4-4-2 formation.
Stephen Henderson lined his side out in a 3-5-2 attack minded system and both teams held nothing back in the opening exchanges.
The pitch was in great nick for the game and the ball really zipped around the surface but the dry conditions created a wicked bounce which caught Luke Gallagher unawares in the opening five minutes and his mis-timed header dropped to Jaze Kabia who smashed a shot wide from 30-yards.
Drogheda looked to have a legitimate penalty appeal waved away as Colm Deasy launched a long throw into the box and Chris Lyons deftly spun only to be left on his derrière by the Cobh defence but all appeals were waved away.
The Boynesiders hit the front on 15 minutes. Paul Hunt, with the sun in his eyes had struggled with high balls into the box. So having won a corner, Richie Purdy put the ball right in front of the keeper for Ciaran Kelly to attack. His initial header was palmed out by Hunt but the 6'3 full back reacted quickest and forced the rebound home. Credit has to go also to Chris Lyons who helped block the keeper.
Cobh's response was almost immediate though as Dave Hurley smashed the crossbar from 30 yards. Chris Lyons, who was to have a frustrating night, fired over from close range as Dillon's delivery to the box was chested down by McCaffrey to his strike partner eight yards out.
Lyons had another low shot go close before Cobh drew level with 25 minutes played. Denzil Fernandes stabbed a ball into the box which appeared to hit Dillon's arm and referee McLaughlin pointed straight to the spot. Anthony McAlavey sent Skinner the wrong way to level game.
Drogheda were causing mayhem from corners, Purdy dropped another into the box and Kelly's snap shot was blocked by Kevin Taylor, the rebound was pushed wide by Colm Deasy. Playing in centre midfield Dillon showed some real composure as on several occasions he held the ball up before picking the right pass to help pull the strings.
Gareth McCaffrey, although initially starting as part of a front two, had the task of dropping deep and creating some forward movement from just in front of his back four.
Taylor made another interception as Mark Doyle was about to pull the trigger on the half-hour mark. Drogheda were very much on top and should have re-taken the lead when a way ward pass was seized upon by Chris Lyons. The striker hesitated before playing in Doyle who in turn fed Lee Duffy and the midfielder's low shot to the far post was narrowly wide with Doyle just inches away from connecting.
The visitors started the second-half like a house on fire, Kabia forced a smart save from Skinner before Gallagher blocked a McAlavey goalbound effort.
Corners proved troublesome as much for Skinner in the second half as his opposite number in the first. James McSweeney met a delivery with a sweet header but Skinner pulled off a good reaction save.
Lyons looked alert up front and the striker blasted a shot at the Cobh keeper who parried the effort to Duffy but he gathered the rebound.
It was another set piece though that would put Tim Clancy's side back into the lead. Purdy's corner wasn't properly cleared and Gallagher took full advantage at the back post, the centre back finishing like a striker, his effort powering right past Hunt.
The Deasy Lyons combo down the right was proving to be profitable for Drogheda in terms of chances. While that channel was to be a source of joy for Drogheda, Cobh seemed to be trying to take advantage of a series of corners.
Paul Skinner, who seemed to have kept his pre-break form, made a series of stops as Henderson's side piled on the pressure. Indeed the introduction of some big players by Cobh made any and all set pieces a dangerous prospect for Drogheda.
Second-half sub Darren Murphy put Drogheda hearts in mounts as he blazed a corner right across the face of goal, thankfully for the hosts there was no-one to stab it home.
There were some nervy moments in injury time when Deasy blocked a Murphy shot behind for a corner. From the resultant setpiece, Murphy connected with Ben O'Riordan at the back post but his header went into the side netting. Seemingly though the only person to realise it had hit the side netting was Skinner as there was a very audible gasp from the home support.