Sava the star as clean sheet keeps Drogheda's hopes alive
Drogheda Utd 0 Malmo FF 0
THE game plan was to keep this tie alive going to Sweden next week so, in that context, this was a job well done by Drogheda United. Scoreless draws are rarely greeted as enthusiastically.
Malmo gave the impression that they had more up their sleeve and will be confident of finishing the job on home turf, yet their inability to capture an away goal will allow the League of Ireland side to make the trip hopeful of securing an upset that would significantly boost the coffers – a serious carrot considering they no longer have the resources that funded previous European adventures.
On their last visit to Tallaght, Mick Cooke's side were torn apart by Shamrock Rovers, conceding seven in a humiliating Setanta Cup final.
There were fears that a Malmo outfit with a sprinkling of senior and underage internationals could make this a similarly difficult evening, particularly as the Louth men are a part-time side.
Happily, that scenario never came to pass, with the Boynesiders producing the kind of focused, tactically sharp and organised display which qualified them for Europe in the first place. They deserved the outcome.
Cooke set out his stall by deploying centre-half Alan Byrne in a defensive midfield role, with containment very much the priority. Frontmen Gary O'Neill and Peter Hynes were frequently drawn into defensive duty, with the visitors dominating possession.
However, they were slow to penetrate and gave the hosts cause for encouragement before the interval with some casual tracking back.
Twice, Drogheda worked themselves into position where they had a spare man, but the final ball was poor, with O'Neill culpable when Paul O'Conor had marauded into space on the right.
That led to a swift counter which concluded with a shot over the bar from Markus Halsti.
Highly regarded South African striker Tokelo Rantie instigated another break that required a smart intervention from stand-in left-full Gavin Brennan.
With 15 minutes left, Ryan Brennan, who had been booked earlier for dissent, received a second yellow for a foul on Rantie which halted a menacing advance.
Buoyed by the numerical advantage, the black shirts went in search of a winner and 'keeper Gabriel Sava was twice called into action, first denying Halsti before spreading himself to expertly prevent a Rantie drive. You suspect he will be even busier next Thursday.
Drogheda United – Sava, Daly, McNally, Prendergast, G Brennan; Byrne; R Brennan, O'Conor, Cassidy; O'Neill (O'Brien 66) Hynes (Gannon 78).
Malmo FF – Dahlin, Albornoz, Jansson, Johansson, Ricardinho; Hamad, Halsti, Friberg (Petrovic 84), Forsberg (Thern 55); Rantie, Eriksson.
Ref – E Aleckovic (Bosnia)