Declan O'Brien 21' -
A feel-good factor has engulfed Drogheda United and well it might. While the men from Louth rode their luck for long spells, they defended well and were able to grind out a 1-0 win over an unfortunate UCD side.
A near-packed press box, something that hasn’t been seen in Hunky Dorys Park for a long time, indicates that Drogheda’s title credentials are real. Indeed the Drogs underwent a severe test on Friday night and came out the other side only one point from the summit of the Airtricity Premier Division.
UCD are renowned for their ability to play the ball on the ground and pass their way through teams. And having to make do without the services of Ryan and Gavin Brennan, it would have been understandable for Mick Cooke to pack the middle and stifle the Students at their core.
But the hosts have proven themselves as a capable footballing side and, albeit against the bottom-placed team, showed their metal by opting for a two man attack in the first half.
One of those two would break the deadlock after 21 minutes – Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien with his 11th of the season – but before that both sides had chances, though Drogheda had the better.
O’Brien had the first effort of the game after only four minutes before full-back Philip Hand went within inches of breaking the deadlock with a powerful volley after a cross from Conor McMahon.
Indeed, McMahon was a real threat and teed up Peter Hynes a minute later. Mark McGinley, in the UCD goal, saved comfortably however.
The deadlock was broken in the next attack when Hand’s long, hopeful free kick was half-cleared by UCD centre half Michael Leahy. O’Brien, loitering on the edge of the box, controlled before volleying exquisitely over McGinley.
UCD showed flashes of brilliance but nothing sustained in the opening 45 minutes. Paul Corry went closest before the break when his long range effort was tipped onto the upright by Gabriel Sava. Before that Samir Belhout had a go from 40 yards. Full-back Daniel Ledwith’s free-kick, in a dangerous area on 36 minutes, went two yards wide.
Martin Russell replaced the ineffectual Ciaran Nangle with Chris Lyons at the break and the effect was almost instantaneous. First the winger had his low shot saved by Sava before chasing up a Robbie Benson shot after Sava could only parry the angled drive.
Drogheda were made weather intense UCD pressure for most of the second half. Sensing his side were being overrun, Cooke introduced midfield reinforcement in the shape of Alan Byrne. Hereafter the hosts defended in numbers and counter-attacked when the opportunity arose. The one goal lead meant it would be a nervy finish for the hosts, who were ultimately lucky to hold on.
Drogheda’s negativity contrasted sharply with UCD’s ambition. The Students played for much of the second-half with three at the back and their endeavour should have been rewarded.
On 69 minutes forward David McMillan, completely unmarked, headed over Samir Belhout’s cross. Minutes later centre half David O’Connor’s had a go, but the shot went the same way as McMillan’s.
While UCD dominate dominated possession and territory, and made for plenty of anxiety around Hunky Dorys Park, they ultimately failed to trouble Sava enough. Paul Corry’s run and shot five minutes before the death was indicative of their performance – lacking that cutting-edge.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Conor McMahon, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Philip Hand; Cathal Brady (Tiarnan Mulvenna, 68), Sean Brennan (Jason Marks, 65), Paul Crowley, Eric Foley ; Declan O’Brien, Peter Hynes (Alan Byrne, 55).
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Stephen Quigley, Mark O’Brien, Johnny Breen.
Booked: A Byrne (70), Crowley (87).
UCD: Mark McGinley; Hugh Douglas, David O’Connor, Michael Leahy, Daniel Ledwith; Samir Belhout, Paul Corry, Paul O’Conor (Barry McCabe, 70), Ciaran Nangle (Chris Lyons, 46); Robert Benson, David McMillan.
Subs not used: Niall Corbett, James Kavanagh, Tyrone McNelis, Thomas Boyle, Gary Burke.
Booked: Ledwith (59).
Referee: Tom Connolly.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gabriel Sava (Drogheda United).