Paul Crowley and Eric Foley were sent-off in the second half but nine-man Drogheda United held out for a well-deserved scoreless draw as Dundalk were forced to settle for a point at United Park on Friday night.
Drogheda created the best chances in the opening half as Gavin Brennan tested Peter Cherrie before he hit the crossbar. The second period came to life in the final 20 minutes as firstly Crowley was given his marching orders, and from the resulting free-kick Michael Rafter brought the best out of Gabriel Sava. Then Foley was dismissed, but Dundalk were unable to take advantage as Rafter headed over late on.
Dundalk made three changes to the side that lined out in the opening two games, as Nathan Murphy, Chris Shields – making his debut – and Paul Walsh came in to replace Dan Cunningham, Robert Waters and Gary Shanahan. With Shane O’Neill and Rafter up top, Dundalk caught their opponents by surprise in the early moments. However, their only effort was a cross from Stephen McDonnell that was easily gathered by Sava. But Drogheda quickly grew into the game and Philip Hand headed over from close range, before a superb long-range strike by Gavin Brennan forced a fine save by Cherrie as he pushed behind.
Past the quarter-hour mark and Drogheda hit the crossbar, as a corner dropped to Brennan and he hit the woodwork from eight-yards. On 26 minutes, as the home side pushed for an opener, Tiarnán Mulvenna was presented with a shooting opportunity from the right-hand edge of the box but his effort went wide.
Seconds later and Dundalk should have been in front. McDonnell’s low delivery fell to Walsh, making his full bow, at the back post but he cut inside when a first-time effort looked the better option, with the end shot coming from defender Derek Foran but it was blocked.
On the half-hour mark, Drogheda again went close as Eric Foley’s cross from the right was knocked down by Peter Hynes, but Mulvenna failed to get the necessary touch that would have broken the deadlock.
On 33 minutes, John Mountney won back possession and the ball fell invitingly to Rafter whose fine shot from distance was well saved and held by Sava. Between then and break, little of note happened, as the sides went in level at half-time.
On 55 minutes, the game sprung to life. Firstly, Rafter did well on the left of the box and pulled back for O’Neill but he delayed, allowing Drogheda to clear, before McDonnell shot wildly off target. At the other end, after Foran raced across to clear, the ball fell to Gavin Brennan on the right and his shot-cum-cross ended with Hand heading across goal but Dundalk survived. Then McDonnell fired into the arms of Sava from the left of the area.
The game quietened down again after that, until 69 minutes when Drogheda were reduced to ten men as Crowley received a second yellow card for a foul on Rafter. The free-kick was taken short by McDonnell to Rafter whose powerful shot was pushed away by Sava, before Shields’ follow-up across goal went wide. On 77 minutes, the hosts were reduced to nine when Foley was booked for a second time after tripping McDonnell.
From the free-kick, Dundalk went close again following a well-worked move, but Rafter’s end shot went wide. Despite having a two-man advantage, it was Drogheda who pressed and forced corners, but Dundalk should have won it in the final minute of normal time when Rafter headed over a fierce McDonnell cross.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Eric Foley, Derek Prendergast, Alan McNally, Shane Grimes; Gavin Brennan, Ryan Brennan, Paul Crowley ©, Philip Hand (Dean Marshall 58); Peter Hynes (Seán Brennan 74), Tiarnán Mulvenna (Declan O’Brien 74).
Unused Subs: Jack Flynn, Johnny Breen, Mark O’Brien, Cathal Brady.
Booked: P Crowley (16), E Foley (41), S Grimes (79), A McNally (87).
Sent-Off: P Crowley (69), E Foley (77).
Dundalk FC: Peter Cherrie; Derek Foran, Liam Burns, Luke Danville, Nathan Murphy (Gareth Coughlan 78); John Mountney, Stephen McDonnell, Chris Shields ©, Paul Walsh (Robert Waters 64); Michael Rafter, Shane O’Neill (Chris Reilly 82).
Unused Subs: Ger Hanley (GK), Dan Cunningham, Cian Byrne, Peter Thomas.
Booked: Rafter (62), Coughlan (90+1).
Referee: Rob Rogers (Dublin).