Drogheda United put on their most commanding performance of the season so far to see off ten man Derry City side on Friday night. Goals from Ryan Brennan and Brian Gannon either side of a Barry Molloy red card meant the hosts claimed their first victory over an overly robust City side in four attempts.
Mick Cooke’s tactical acumen is second to none and sensing a tough battle on his hands, dropped the usual 4-4-2 formation he has been employing this year and opted to crowd the middle with Ryan Brennan playing alongside Paul Crowley in the centre. It was move that would eventually bear fruit, but perhaps more importantly stifled Derry’s free flowing game.
Indeed, the visitors had no real goal scoring chances in the opening 45 minutes of play. Ruadhri Higgins, Patrick McEleney and Rory Patterson all had efforts on the Drogs’ goal at some stage but the majority were picked out of the sky by Gabriel Sava, or fizzed harmlessly over.
As the game progressed however, the hosts grew into it. The goal would arrive on 21 minutes but before that Drogheda were beginning to get a foothold in the middle. The goal came from a thing of nothing - Gavin Brennan picking up possession 40 yards out from goal. His weighted pass over the top was met by the run of brother Ryan who volleyed first time past Doherty.
And the hosts could, and possibly should, have extended their lead only moments after. First Sean Brennan squared for Tiernan Mulvenna on the Derry box but his shot was blocked heroically by Stewart Greacan. Soon after Brennan was guilty of spurning a glorious one-on-one on 40 minutes.
Derek Prendergast should have scored from a header moments earlier.
Stephen McLaughlin volleyed well over on the stroke of half time to sum up a sub-standard opening 45 for Derry.
Declan Devine must have had the hairdryer out at the interval because his side came out for the second half with renewed hunger and vigour. Simon Madden got into deep positions and crossed dangerously but the same problem continued to haunt the Candystripes – clinical finishing.
Derry dominated possession and territory for much of the second half but Drogheda still looked the more threatening side, particularly on the break. Fancy footwork from Gavin Brennan allowed Sean time and space and his powerful 20 yard drive was just inches wide on the hour mark.
As time wore on Derry lost their impetus and the game went through a very scrappy phase that ultimately cost the visitors dearly. They would eventually finish the game with six players yellow carded but it was captain Barry Molloy who would pay the highest price. He received his marching orders – a second yellow - for a professional foul on Sean Brennan who was racing in on goal following a neat flick on by Mulvenna.
The visitors became more ragged at a time when composure was required given their numerical disadvantage. Derry boss Declan Devine introduced Kevin Deery and Owen Morrison with 15 minutes to go but the result remained the same as the northerners continued to huff and puff without reward.
Drogheda were against the thumb for long spells but their attacking remained constant throughout with the Brennan brothers, and particularly Sean, leading the line impressively. It was no surprise when Drogheda scored their second to finish off the tie. Gavin Brennan, grabbing his second assist of the game, crossed superbly for Brian Gannon to smash past Ger Doherty.
As Graham Kelly blew for full time, the home support chanted that the Drogs would win the league. While unlikely, Mick Cooke can take great strength from this victory. It’s back to the drawing board for Devine and Derry.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes; Brian Gannon, Sean Brennan (Johnny Breen, 84), Paul Crowley, Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan; Tiarnan Mulvenna (Declan O’Brien, 82).
Subs not used: Shane Finnegan, Dean Marshall, Philip Hand, Eric Foley, Keith Boyle.
Derry City: Ger Doherty; Simon Madden, Stewart Geacan, Ryan McBride (Shane McEleney, 25), Dermot McCaffrey; Rory Patterson, Barry Molloy, Stephen McLaughlin, Ruaidhri Higgins (Kevin Deery, 74); Mark Farren, Patrick McEleney (Owen Morrison, 74).
Subs not used: Eugene Ferry, David McDaid, Matthew Crossan, Ryan Curran.
Bookings: Molloy (43), McCaffrey (52), Higgins (72), S McEleney (76), Greacen (78).
Sent Off: Molloy (75).
Referee: Graham Kelly.
Attendance: 800 (estimate)
Extratime.ie man of the match: Sean Brennan.