Gerard Grimes reports from United Park
A second half strike from Nathan Boyle saw Finn Harps come away from United Park with a 1-1 draw against Drogheda United after the first leg of their First Division promotion play-off.
Drogheda hit the front with the first shot on goal in the game. Sean Brennan’s corner on 12 minutes was flicked on at the near post and hit off the leg of Chris Lyons at the back post as he looked to control it.
The ball fell to defender Ciaran Kelly who drilled a low shot in the bottom corner, scoring his sixth goal of the season, to give Drogheda the lead.
Drogheda, with Tim Clancy back in the dugout after serving a four-game touchline ban, continued to press and both Sean Brennan and Mark Doyle had efforts easily saved by Ciaran Gallagher in the Harps goal.
The visitors had a goal of their own chalked off on 25 minutes as a corner fell to Gareth Harkin on the edge of the box.
Harkin’s effort was saved by the feet of Skinner and the linesman raised his flag signalling an offside before Mikey Place tucked the ball in at the near post, only for it to be disallowed.
Lyons was next to try his luck for Drogheda, driving forward and letting fly, looking for the top corner. However, his effort didn’t dip enough and was no trouble for Ciaran Gallagher.
Harps best chance of an equaliser in the first half came five minutes later as Devers switched play across the box to Place, who saw his driven effort well saved by the sliding Skinner.
The visitors were beginning to grow into the game and Timlin went close with a superb volleyed effort soon after, but watched his shot pull to the left and narrowly wide of the Drogheda upright.
It was Drogheda who ended the half on top though, first winning a corner after Kealan Dillon’s ball over the top found Mark Doyle and his shot from an acute angle was deflected wide.
The half ended with Gallagher making two saves as both a Brennan volley and a Hondermarck flick after a goalmouth scramble were hit straight at the Harps keeper.
Drogheda had the first chances of the second half, as Hondermarck, receiving a cut back from Kane, took a touch, turning his man before shouting just wide of Gallagher’s goal.
Then, less than a minute later, Brennan played a one-two with Lyons, but the Drogheda captain, in the absence of Jake Hyland, who suffered a leg break against Shelbourne on Monday, didn’t catch it cleanly and his shot rolled through to Gallagher.
From there though, Harps began to gain a real foothold in the game as Drogheda began to suffer, perhaps feeling the effects of playing 120 minutes on Monday.
Harps control on the second half began with Ciaran Coll winning the ball back on the edge of the box and shooting wide of the far corner from around 25 yards.
Harps introduced Nathan Boyle in place of Jesse Devers just after the hour mark and five minutes later, Boyle had Ollie Horgan’s side level.
Goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher launched a long ball up the field, the ball bounced over Kevin Farragher’s head and allowed Boyle in to beat Kelly, take it around the diving Skinner and slot it into the net.
A Doyle break through the Harps back line managed to break Harps control somewhat as he took it to the line and drilled it across the box, but Lyons couldn’t get the final touch on it.
Conor Kane had the final chance of the game as his effort, looking for the top corner, was headed clear by a Harps defender, meaning the two sides will battle again in Ballybofey next Friday, with the score all square after the first leg.
Drogheda United: Paul Skinner; Ciaran Kelly, Luke Gallagher, Kevin Farragher; Colm Deasy, Kealan Dillon, Sean Brennan (C), William Hondermarck, Conor Kane; Mark Doyle, Chris Lyons.
Subs not used: Luka Gratzer (GK), Lloyd Buckley, Sean Trimble, Eoin McPhillips, Janabi Amour, Gareth McCaffrey, Rob Manley.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher; Gareth Harkin (Mark Coyle 50), Keith Cowen (C), Niall Logue; John Kavanagh, Jacob Borg, Sam Todd, Mark Timlin (Paddy McCourt 67), Ciaran Coll; Jesse Devers (Nathan Boyle 61), Mikey Place.
Subs not used: Peter Burke (GK), Aidan Friel, Tunmise Sobowale, John O’Flynn.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Kealan Dillon (Drogheda United)