DROGHEDA UNITED 0
SLIGO ROVERS 0
THE limited entertainment value at Head in the Game Park was replicated around the other Premier Division grounds on Friday night as just four of the 10 competing teams managed to score a goal.
However, despite a dramatic late rally by second-bottom Finn Harps to snatch a draw against Tim Clancy’s St Pat’s, Drogheda United were more than happy to see their 10-point advantage over the Donegal men retained, while pulling further clear of UCD.
This was the Boynesiders’ first scoreless draw at home since September 3rd last year, when coincidentally Sligo Rovers were again the visitors.
That too was a fairly dull affair, but - remarkably - there was only one survivor from that previous clash in Drogheda’s starting line-up, namely Luke Heeney, while nine of the other starters last autumn are no longer with the club.
That’s the sort of challenge that Kevin Doherty has had to face this year, but it’s one he’s relished and we’re seeing the fruits of the management team’s efforts in the Drogs’ current five-match unbeaten run.
To say this latest game was a slow-burner would be an under-statement. It was certainly very different to the clubs’ previous meeting when David Cawley scored twice for Sligo inside the first three minutes of a match that ended 3-2 in their favour, with the additional drama of an own goal, two missed penalties and the sending-off of Evan Weir.
The latter was named as the official Man of the Match this time, no doubt helped by his superb goal-line block to deny Karl O’Sullivan on 14 minutes, while the Boynesiders were surely pleased to see Cawley among the subs.
Drogheda forced a couple of early corners through Ryan Brennan and James Clarke, but the next good chance fell to Sligo as Aidan Keena latched onto a 60-yard pass from Lewis Banks, only to be closed down by Andrew Quinn who made a crucial intervention to block his shot.
Coming up to half-time the Bit O’Red’s powerful New Zealand international Max Mata made a superb run from deep, but again Quinn was equal to the task, tracking the number 9 all the way at full speed before booting the ball to safety.
Apart from that there was nothing to speak of in the first half. Not a single shot by Drogheda on or off target - and thankfully no additional time either!
Sligo moved up a gear at the start of the second period and a decent header from Banks went just over the bar before Heeney made a crucial last-ditch challenge to put Will Fitzgerald off his stride as he went one-on-one with keeper Colin McCabe following a rare error from Quinn.
A mis-cued Heeney shot was followed by Drogheda’s first proper attempt on goal in the 66th minute - a Darragh Nugent effort that was held by Ed McGinty. Substitute Chris Lyons then mis-hit a shot straight to the Sligo keeper after Brennan had won possession off Adam McDonnell.
Drogheda’s best chance of the game arrived on 81 minutes when Lyons’ first-time flick from a Dane Massey throw was collected by Darragh Markey and he teed up fellow sub Adam Foley who toe-poked wide from 10 yards.
Moments later Markey was fouled 25 yards out and he planted the resulting free onto the head of Massey who could only steer his attempt straight at McGinty.
Gary Deegan then struck a free kick into Sligo’s defensive wall, but the veteran midfielder almost inadvertently gifted a 95th-minute winner to the visitors. Deegan back-heeled the ball from the touchline to keep it in play, but instead of instigating a Drogheda attack it was Sligo who poured forward and the resulting cross from in front of the clubhouse took a deflection towards the back post wher the diving Fitzgerald just failed to get a decisive touch.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Colin McCabe 6; Luke Heeney 8, Andrew Quinn 8, Evan Weir 8, Dane Massey 8, Gary Deegan 6, James Clarke 7 (Adam Foley 65min, 7); Darragh Nugent 7, Ryan Brennan 7, Dayle Rooney 6 (Darragh Markey 71min, 7); Dean Williams 6 (Chris Lyons 74min, 7). Subs not used: Keith Cowan, Charles Mutawe, Dylan Molloy, Georgie Poynton, Evan Haddock, Aaron Davis.
SLIGO ROVERS: Ed McGinty 7; Colm Horgan 7, Lewis Banks 7, Shane Blaney 7, Paddy Kirk 7; Niall Morahan 8 (David Cawley 65min, 6), Adam McDonnell 7; Karl O’Sullivan 6 (Cillian Heaney 70min, 7), Aidan Keena 6, Will Fitzgerald 7; Max Mata 8. Subs not used: Robbie McCourt, Seamas Keogh, Mark Byrne, Peter Maguire, Kailan Barlow, Eanna Clancy, Richard Brush.