Goals from Gavin Brennan and Peter Hynes earned Drogheda United a 2-0 win over St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park on Sunday afternoon, a result that lifts the Drogs above Pats to second in the Premier Division table.
Pat’s manager Liam Buckley will have been well aware of the exhaustive nature of his side’s progression in the Europa League last Thursday, and he made six changes to the starting eleven for this game. But it soon became clear that this season’s pretenders to the league crown were up against a Drogheda United side that were benefitting from eleven days without a game.
Drogheda were sprightly from the off, with midfield runners arcing at speed around lone striker Declan O’Brien whenever possession was won. Nor were the visitors lacking in defence, with Alan Byrne and Paul Crowley working hard in front of a back four that was superbly marshalled by Alan McNally and Derek Prendergast.
It was Pat’s who made the first move, Greg Bolger and Chris Forrester combining to provide Stephen O’Flynn with sight of goal, but Crowley came in with an emphatic block that snuffed out the danger. Two minutes later Crowley finished off a typically sharp Drogheda break with a shot that, while firmly hit, betrayed his defensive leanings.
But just ten minutes in Drogheda had the lead. Barry Murphy’s attempted clearance went straight to Gavin Brennan and the Drogheda wide man took full advantage, shooting under the Pat’s ‘keeper with enough power to carry it to the net, despite solid contact with Murphy’s ribcage.
Six minutes later and Drogheda could have been further ahead. A long ball forward found Alan Byrne in an unusually advanced position and his flicked header flew over Murphy only to rebound to safety off the inside of the post.
To Pats’ credit they worked their way doggedly back into the game, with James Chambers running their midfield and lone striker Stephen O’Flynn working like a trojan to carve some half chances from a fairly barren environment.
With just over half an hour played O’Flynn picked up a nothing ball 35 yards from goal and released a snap shot that beat Gabriel Sava but crashed back off the Drogheda crossbar with such venom that it effectively cleared itself.
But it was still Drogheda who looked brighter and the more likely to deliver a cutting stroke. Declan O’Brien saw his far post header excellently saved by Murphy on 42 minutes, and one minute later Cathal Brady, played in by O’Brien, really should have scored instead of curling his close range shot around Murphy but wide of the goal. Then, seconds before the break, Philip Hand landed a corner on the top of Murphy’s crossbar before the ball dropped behind.
With Kenny Browne replacing the injured Pat Flynn just before the break, and Brendan Clarke replacing Murphy in goal at half time, St Pats started the second half with a more familiar looking defensive unit. And within two minutes of the restart the had engineered two chances, Ian Bermingham volleying straight at Sava from wide on the left, and Stephen O’Flynn firing a powerful shot narrowly over the Drogheda bar.
After just three minutes of second half action the complexion of the game changed. Ryan Brennan clashed with Chambers in central midfield and was shown a straight red by referee Graham Kelly. Brennan’s protests were long and loud but manager Mick Cooke was sanguine, limiting his response to the tactical and sending on a second striker, Peter Hynes, in place of wide midfielder Cathal Brady.
Suddenly the game seemed startlingly even with Drogheda’s surplus of energy being taken up by the demands of being a man down, and St Pat’s looking altogether more purposeful. The sending off had also added a spicy quality to proceedings.
Full backs Ger O’Brien and Ian Bermingham became ever more important in stretching a resolute Drogheda defence, but it was the commitment of Chambers in the centre and the pugnacious determination of O’Flynn that typified Pat’s second half performance.
Ger O’Brien almost sneaked a leveller on 56 minutes when his cross from the right almost found the top left corner, being tipped over by a fully stretched Sava. Bermingham then provided a cross from the left that was muddled wide by an off balance Chris Forrester. With 20 minutes left O’Brien flung in another ball from the right that Bermingham met, heading inches over the visitor’s bar.
But with fifteen minutes remaining Drogheda executed the classic sucker punch. On a rare sortie into Pats’ territory Forrester fouled Hand and the full back delivered a free to the back post that was only half cleared to Derek Prendergast. His shot looked harmlessly tame but substitute Peter Hynes slid in to give it a helping hand. He got enough on the ball to slip it past Clarke and beyond the despairing efforts of Kenny Browne on the goal-line.
The last minutes were played out against a backdrop of frustrated home support, urging their side to a more direct approach. And with just two minutes left to play Pat’s desperation almost led to a third for Drogheda. Having forced a corner, Chambers was beaten to a header by Prendergast and Declan O’Brien, picking up the loose ball, found nothing between himself and goal except 70 yards of empty grass. He almost made it too, but substitute striker Anto Flood battled back heroically to prevent such an indignity.
Drogheda deserved their win, one which takes them above St Pat’s and into second place in the table. Perhaps the home side can lay some blame on their European exertions, but this is the point at which champions start to be formed, and if Pats are to seriously challenge for the title they must handle the trappings of success better than they did today.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Barry Murphy (Brendan Clarke 46); Ger O’Brien, Pat Flynn (Kenny Browne 45+2), Aidan Price, Ian Bermingham; Chris Forrester, Greg Bolger, James Chambers, Jake Carroll, Jake Kelly (Anto Flood 65); Stephen O’Flynn.
Subs not used: Conor Kenna, Ryan Coombes, Darren Meenan, Sean O’Connor.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Conor McMahon, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Philip Hand; Cathal Brady (Peter Hynes 53), Paul Crowley, Ryan Brennan, Alan Byrne, Gavin Brennan (Jason Marks 70); Declan O’Brien.
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Mark O’Brien, Sean Brennan, Tiarnan Mulvenna, Johnny Breen.
Bookings: G Brennan (26).
Sent Off: R Brennan (48)
Referee: Graham Kelly.
Extratime Man of the Match: James Chambers (St Patrick’s Ath).