Daryl Horgan earned Cork City a valuable point against Drogheda United when his second half goal cancelled out Declan O’Brien’s opener at Hunky Dorys Park on Monday night.
In what was very much a game of two halves Drogheda United took a thoroughly deserved lead into the half time break, courtesy of O’Brien’s close range finish following an error from City centre-back Kalen Spillane.
But Tommy Dunne’s City side hadn’t lost in four games prior to this encounter, and in the second half they gave some clues as to why with a much improved performance that yielded an equaliser from Horgan following another error, this time from Drogheda ‘keeper, Gabriel Sava.
Within two minutes of kick-off Drogheda had given notice that their anaemic display against Shamrock Rovers on Friday night was a thing of the past as Peter Hynes foreshadowed a Man of the Match performance with an early strike that Mark McNulty did well to deflect away from his goal, and a deft through ball that drew a rash handball from Danny Murphy that earned the Cork full-back a yellow card.
Three minutes later, Declan O’Brien got his first chance of the game from a pinpoint cross by Gavin Brennan, but he got his bearings wrong and what was effectively a free header drifted wide.
And so the first half continued. Drogheda were sturdy and creative through the middle, while urging Gavin and Sean Brennan down the flanks at every opportunity. City hardly got a sniff.
Hynes had a decent shot blocked away on 17 minutes and three minutes later a subtle lay-off from O’Brien opened up a shooting opportunity for Sean Brennan, his sweetly struck effort whistling inches over the visitor’s bar.
Shortly before the half hour mark, the inevitable came to pass. A long ball from Derek Prendergast was flicked on by Hynes and, with Kalen Spillane misjudging the flight of the ball, O’Brien was left with simple task of hammering home from close range, past the exposed McNulty.
Hynes created another opening, this time for Paul Crowley, on 36 minutes, with a perfectly cushioned header into the Drogheda midfielder’s path. But he seemed to experience a moment of stage fright, allowing the chance to fade and selecting a pass to the wing instead of the more obvious shot on goal.
City then manufactured a couple of half chances, Daryl Horgan shooting over Sava’s bar and Colin Healy hooking a vague effort beyond the far post. But the last act of the opening period was at the other end when Sean Brennan’s accurate cross found brother Gavin at the far post. His expertly placed header beat McNulty but the home fans’ elation was cruelly curtailed by an off-side flag.
Whatever Tommy Dunne said to his men at half time had the desired effect and Cork started the second period with a sense of purpose that had been entirely lacking in the opening half. Gavin Kavanagh replaced Danny Murphy who had come perilously close to a second yellow minutes before the break, and the former Crumlin United centre back brought some steel to the visitor’s defensive efforts.
More pertinently, City were suddenly a more dangerous proposition in attack. Horgan and Davin O’Neill looked altogether more threatening on the wings, while Vinny Sullivan and Tadhg Purcell were infinitely more industrious up front. What had been a one-sided affair was now a genuine contest.
Eleven minutes into the half, City were level. Breaking from a Drogheda corner, a long ball was aimed at Horgan. With a defender to beat, there was still much for the City wide man to do, but Sava intervened to sway the odds in his favour. Rushing suicidally from his area, the Drogheda keeper distracted his defender and completely missed the ball. Horgan recovered swiftly to chip the ball into the far corner, despite the heroic efforts of Brain Gannon on the goal-line.
Cue a tumultuous end-game. Sean Brennan caused havoc in the City defence moments later with an effort from the right that McNulty palmed onto his back post before the ball was scrambled clear. Then Vinny Sullivan broke clean through at the other end only to hit a weak shot that was mothered by Sava.
The play swung from end to end with McNulty pulling off a wonderful save from Hynes’ header on 73 minutes. The Cork ‘keeper was superb again, three minutes later, turning Eric Foley’s free kick around the butt of his right hand post. And, with eight minutes left, Purcell rounded off a wonderful City move with a strike that flew too close to Sava.
With just five minutes left on the clock O’Brien should have sealed it for the Drogs when he was allowed far too much time and space on the end of Gavin Brennan’s low cross from the left. But the serial hitman tried a clever flick when a more direct approach would surely have found the net.
In the end a draw seemed fair. Drogheda could, and perhaps should, have ended the contest in the first half, but City’s resolve earned them a share of the spoils which maintains the Leesiders’ upward momentum.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Brian Gannon, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes; Sean Brennan (Cathal Brady 66), Eric Foley (Ryan Brennan 88), Paul Crowley, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien, Peter Hynes.
Subs Nor Used: Shane Finnegan, Philip Hand, Mark O’Brien, Johnny Breen, Tiarnan Mulvenna.
Bookings: G Brennan (15), Foley (42), Prendergast (90).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Colin Healy, John Dunleavy, Kalen Spillane, Danny Murphy (Gavin Kavanagh 46); Daryl Horgan, Gearoid Morrissey, Shane Duggan, Davin O’Neill; Tadhg Purcell, Vinny Sullivan (Stephen Kenny 90+3).
Subs Not Used: Kevin Burns, Ian Turner, Dan Murray, Garry Buckley, Danny Morrissey.
Bookings: D Murphy (2), Dunleavy (71).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
Extratime Man of the Match: Peter Hynes (Drogheda United).