Drogheda United will take a one goal lead into the second leg of their first round Setanta Sports Cup tie as they edged Portadown 3-2 in an entertaining encounter in Hunky Dorys Park.
It may have been the Drogs first competitive match of the season but they seemed to surprise their Northern visitors as they tore out of the blocks with Cathal Brady going close with a shot after only two minutes.
The home side were irresistible in the opening stages and gained the lead when Ryan Brennan pounced on Stephen Quigley’s miss-hit shot to fire past Jamie McArdle and into the net.
Portadown were struggling to come to terms with their hosts blistering start and when they did manage to cross the halfway line they were guilty of taking the wrong options in attack with Gary Twigg gesturing to his team mates for the ball to be played early.
Just when Portadown seemed to be getting a foothold in the game Drogheda launched a lightening quick counter attack with Ryan Brennan stretching the defence and finding Gary O’Neil on the edge of the area. The striker showed great strength to hold off the defender and deftly laid the ball into the path of the on rushing Paul O’Conor who expertly side-footed into the corner of the net.
Shortly after, O’Neill ghosted past Chris Ramsey as though he wasn’t there but couldn’t keep his shot down and the ball sailed harmlessly over the bar with the Ports’ management off the bench frantically adjusting their midfield in an attempt to stem the tide.
Portadown were rattled and even the normally deadly Gary Twigg seemed to be affected, shooting wide with only the goalkeeper to beat on 22 minutes. The tactical adjustments then seemed to have the required effect for the visitors, as they became the dominant side as the game entered the second quarter.
They pulled a goal back on 25 minutes when Drogheda could only half clear a corner from the left and Aaron Burns was on hand to head the ball home with Michael Schlingerman stranded.
As the half drew to a close Portadown pushed hard for an equaliser and two minutes before the break were rewarded when former Millwall striker, Kevin Braniff, brought order to a bout of head tennis at the edge of the Drogheda box and when his first attempt was blocked, he readjusted his aim and fired an unstoppable shot into Schlingerman’s top left hand corner.
The second half began in the same entertaining fashion with the game swinging from end to end and Stephen Quigley had to be on his toes as Portadown broke with Twigg almost putting Braniff clear on goal but for the right back’s last ditch intervention.
Drogheda regained the lead on the hour mark when the Brennan brothers combined with Ryan breaking from the middle and picking out Gavin in oceans of space inside the box and he had the simple task of applying the finish.
The visitors then set about searching for another equaliser but the closest they came was when Gary Breen had his header cleared off the line by Shane Grimes.
It would have been expected that Portadown would finish stronger as they are entering the last third of their season but, perhaps hampered by a hard fought cup tie on a heavy pitch only two days ago, the expected onslaught failed to materialise.
Indeed it was Drogheda who had the best chance to extend their lead but Declan O’Brien fired just past the post late on to leave the game finely balanced for next week’s instalment in Shamrock Park.
Drogheda United: Michael Schlingerman; Shane Grimes, Derek Prendergast, Alan Byrne, Stephen Quigley; Ryan Brennan, Gavin Brennan, Paul O’Conor, Eric Foley, Cathal Brady (Graham Rusk 65); Gary O’Neill (Declan O‘Brien 70).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Philip Hand, David Cassidy, Jason Marks, Peter Hynes.
Booked: Eric Foley (72)
Portadown: Jamie McCardle; Andrew Burns, Gary Breen, Chris Ramsey, Ross Redman; Aaron Burns, Sean Mackle (Tim Mouncey 65), Ciaran Rooney, (Neil McCafferty 65), Darren Murray; Kevin Braniff, Gary Twigg.
Subs not used: Okunaiya Okman, Richard Lecky, Mark Patton, Ryan Burns, Joe McNeil.
Booked: Aaron Burns (52)
Referee: Tim Marshall.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Paul O’Conor (Drogheda United).