Ryan Brennan 75' -
Drogheda United emerged with a well deserved 0-0 draw from the first leg of their Europa League First Qualifying Round game against Swedish side Malmo in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday night.
Mick Cooke’s men gave a disciplined performance in a match that they played out the final quarter of an hour with 10 men following Ryan Brennan’s dismissal.
The result was all the more remarkable since United came into the game on the back of five straight defeats in the Airtricity League against the team two points off top in the Swedish Allsvenskan league.
But it wasn’t just a back-to-the-walls defensive performance by Mick Cooke’s men. They carved out a number of chances for themselves but Malmo managed to keep a clean sheep without finding the back of the United net.
Drogheda started relatively brightly and had the first real opportunity in the game on seven minutes. David Cassidy and Gavin Brennan linked up well on the left with Brennan’s cross having to be gathered cleanly by goalkeeper Johan Dahlin under pressure from Gary O’Neill.
Emil Frosberg had Gabriel Sava scrambling on 13 minutes as his shot from thirty yards bounced just past Sava’s left hand post as the visitors began to dominate the game for the middle period of the half. Drogheda had difficulty in retaining the ball and when they lost it Malmo worked neat passes in the midfield with captain Jiloan Hamad and Frosberg probing the Boynesiders defence.
United did come into the game again on the half an hour mark when they had a couple of chances as Paul O’Conor got forward from midfield to support the attack. Gary O’Neill should have done better with his back to goal in the penalty area when he underhit a pass when O’Conor was free on the right. Then O’Conor linked up with Hynes on the right but Pontus Jansson was able to clear for the visitors.
Malmo had won 2-1 in Tallaght last year when they took on Shamrock Rovers in a friendly but on this occasion they couldn’t find a goal against an Irish side. Malmo racked up five corners in the opening period but couldn’t make those set pieces count.
United claimed just a solitary corner in the first half but from that they were able to put the Swedish side under considerable pressure. Indeed they had a huge shout for a penalty kick as David Cassidy played a neat one-two with Derek Prendergast. Cassidy went down under Magnus Eriksson’s challenge but the Bosnian referee waved play on.
Tokelo Rantie, who in the second half went into Emir Aleckovic’s book for an overzealous tackle on United’s captain Prendergast, went close on 34 minutes when his shot got a slight deflection to take it past the United post.
In the second half United went close when they won a free kick off Miiko Albornaz that Cassidy put into the box. Alan Byrne at the backpost got his head to it but the ball dropped over the crossbar onto the roof of the net. The home side certainly felt the physicality of the visitors who had three players booked with Gary O’Neill on the receiving end of a number of hefty challenges from behind.
But it was Drogheda who lost a man when Ryan Brennan picked up his second yellow card on 75 minutes for a foul having gone in the book for dissent earlier in the half when he felt Albornoz should seen yellow for a strong challenge.
A powerful header from Malmos’s Markus Halsti from an Erik Friberg corner had the home fans gasping but it went wide of the post that was being guarded by Cassidy. Mick Cooke made a switch mid-way through the second half bringing on Declan O’Brien and the fresh legs added fresh impetus to Drogheda’s challenge.
Sava was required to pull off a double save after the sending off as Halsti and Magnus Eriksson had efforts on goal. With three minutes remaining it looked like Malmo had found the vital away goal as Rantie had time to turn in the box and shoot but an outstretched boot from Sava saved the day for United.
The Boynesiders valiantly defended in the closing period of the game and that means that they will travel to the Swedbank Stadium in Stockholm next Thursday with real hope that they can progress to the next round.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Michael Daly, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Gavin Brennan; Paul O’Conor, Ryan Brennan, Alan Byrne, David Cassidy; Peter Hynes (Brian Gannon 79), Gary O’Neill (Declan O’Brien 67).
Subs Not Used: Michael Schlingermann, Shane Grimes, Cathal Brady, Jason Marks, Graham Rusk.
Booked: Ryan Brennan (54 & 75).
Sent Off: Ryan Brennan 75.
Malmo F.F.: Johan Dahlin; Miiko Albornoz, Pontus Jansson, Eric Johansson, Richardinho; Jiloan Hamad, Erik Friberg (Peter Petrovic 84), Markus Halsti, Emil Forsberg (Simon Thern 55); Magnus Eriksson. Tokelo Rantie.
Subs Not Used: Robin Olsen, Pa Conate, Simon Kroon, Pawel Chibicki, Benjamin Fadi.
Booked: Tokelo Rantie (26), Miiko Albornoz (59), Jiloen Hamad (70).
Referee: Emir Aleckovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gabriel Sava (Drogheda United).