Monday 18 March 2019

Lilies sink Drogs with five-star showing

Jim Malone Cup: Dundalk 5 Drogheda Utd 1

Marcus Cavaroli at Oriel Park

League champions Dundalk began life after Stephen Kenny in fine style as a ruthless first-half performance secured the Jim Malone Cup for a fourth consecutive season against a rather shell-shocked Drogheda United side.

In fairness to the Boynesiders they made a much better fist of things after the break and actually won the second 45 minutes as the Lilywhites took their foot off the accelerator. However, this was Dundalk's night and perhaps an early indication that they're as hungry as ever to make a successful defence of their Premier Division title.

Notable absentees for the hosts were Brian Gartland, Robbie Benson and new signing Jordan Flores, while Pat Hoban, Dane Massey and Daniel Kelly were named among the substitutes. But, with the exception of the injured Jake Hyland, this was arguably Drogheda's strongest starting XI, so it must have been soul-destroying for them to concede five goals in a 24-minute spell in the first half.

The visitors actually had the first half-chance of the game, with Mark Doyle unable to test Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers with a header after good work from Adam Wixted and James Brown.

But from that moment on the Lilywhites clicked into top gear and attacked with a vigour that was mightily impressive for a first pre-season outing.

Michael Duffy headed over the bar and Georgie Kelly drilled a low shot narrowly wide and then came the breakthrough in the seventh minute as Duffy made a superb run in behind Drogs right-back Brown and his cross-shot was diverted to the net by Georgie Kelly.

The Boynesiders conceded possession almost straight from the restart and within a minute Dundalk struck again in superb fashion.

Trialist Sean Murray, the former Republic of Ireland Under-21s and Watford midfielder, was involved three times in the move, eventually playing a one-two with Sean Gannon before drilling a low, menacingly centre across the six-yard area. Drogs keeper Paul Skinner hesitated and Brown - perhaps sensing his keeper would deal with the situation - also dithered, allowing Duffy to tap the ball to the empty net.

Dundalk could have had six by the quarter-hour mark, such was their dominance, as Skinner saved easily from Murray and John Mountney and then dived full-length to deny the latter, with Kelly missing the target at full stretch from yet another opening.

At the other end, Drogheda striker Chris Lyons intercepted a poor pass from Dean Jarvis but mis-cued his shot, and Mark Doyle blasted over the bar after a Sean Brennan free kick had bounced off the defensive wall.

However, for the most part it was a backs-to-the-wall exercise for the Boynesiders and Kevin Farragher had to divert the ball over his own crossbar to avert one dangerous attack before Mountney shot wide following great work by Duffy and Patrick McEleney.

Dundalk weren't to be denied, though, and when a Duffy corner kick deceived Skinner and dropped over him beyond the far post, Kelly looped the ball into the net from an almost impossible angle near the goal-line.

Seconds later it was 4-0 as the livewire Murray slipped a pass through to Kelly who finished past the hapless Skinner for his hat-trick goal.

McEleney then flashed a diagonal shot wide and when Dundalk grabbed their fifth on 31 minutes the media began searching for the record books, perhaps sensing the onslaught would continue for the next hour.

A moment's hesitation by Brennan on the edge of his own penalty area was seized upon by Kelly and he teed up Duffy who smashed the ball past Skinner with aplomb.

Drogheda dug deep and pressed for some kind of consolation, and they did look dangerous at times going forward thanks to the pace and craft of Thomas Byrne and Wixted as well as the spirit and boundless energy of Lyons.

Brennan curled a free kick just over the bar and then Lyons dispossessed Chris Shields 30 yards out and bore down on goal, only to fire wide with only Rogers to beat.

Mountney and Shields could have added to Dundalk's tally before the interval, but the home supporters won't mind too much that the Lilywhites couldn't score in the second half.

There was certainly a drop in intensity, not helped by the usual raft of substitutions in a game of this nature, but the job was done even though Drogheda pulled a goal back within five minutes of the restart.

Lyons won a corner kick and Byrne's inswinger nearly dropped directly into the net behind a static Rogers, instead coming off the post before Gallagher nodded home from the rebound.

Drogheda had switched from a 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2 formation at this stage, which they often deployed last season, and they seemed much more compact and comfortable playing that way, limiting the influence of Duffy, McEleney and Murray.

Dundalk fans got their first look at Daniel Kelly when he came off the bench and the former Bohs man injected a bit more verve into the Lilywhites' attacking play, soon setting up Georgie Kelly who dinked the ball over Skinner and just wide.

Duffy flashed a shot narrowly wide and Gannon had a goal ruled out for offside before Daniel Kelly looped a header just over the crossbar.

The Drogs had a late chance to put a bit more respectability on the scoreline when Conor Kane and Doyle combined to find Gallagher and his cross picked out Lyons who was unable to test Rogers with a header.

From a Drogheda point of view, they will take some comfort from the fact they shut out Dundalk in the second half and the knowledge they won't encounter such quality opposition too often in the upcoming season.

Dundalk supporters might have wondered how their team would fare under the new management team of Vinny Perth and John Gill. Well, it's too early to judge after one pre-season game, but their passing, speed of thought and finishing looked hugely impressive - albeit against a First Division side.

Certainly, any Cork City or Shamrock Rovers 'spies' in the crowd would have reported back that it seems to be 'business as usual' at Oriel Park.     

Drogheda Independent