Speaking after Monday night’s first leg game between Drogheda United and Portadown, Drogs boss Mick Cooke quipped “We should have scored four or five”. Well, the Drogheda manager was appeased tonight as the Boynesiders routed their Northern opposition.
Portadown were forced into four changes from the side that pushed Drogheda close in Hunky Dorys Park last week, most notably Gary Twigg was ruled out through injury. Mick Cooke made only two alterations to his team. Michael Schlingermann was replaced in goal by first choice, Gabriel Sava and the flu-hit Stephen Quigley was replaced by Philip Hand.
Roughly 200 hardy souls, 80 from Drogheda and 120 home supporters, braved the cold to witness this clash. But despite the shocking quality of the pitch, which was more akin to a beach, both sides still managed to produce some smooth, free flowing football.
A 5-0 victory at Shamrock Park, 8-2 on aggregate, sends out a clear message of intent from the North East. Unlike last week, when Drogheda took fully eight minutes to score, Alan Byrne bagged the first goal of this game on 50 seconds. Drogheda’s first foray into the Portadown half resulted in a corner which Eric Foley whipped into the back post and Byrne was on hand to bundle it across the line, giving the visitors the dream start.
A visibly rocked home side were split open on 12 minutes when Gary O’Neill and Ryan Brennan combined in midfield with the latter hitting a first time pass to Paul O’Conor who, in acres of space on the edge of the Ports box, composed himself before slotting past the onrushing David Miskelly.
It was 21 minutes before Portadown even came close to registering a chance. Mike Patton appeared to be their only real threat and the midfielder had Shane Grimes tormented. He unleashed the onrushing Richard Lecky who made it to the byline, however his shot was closed down by Alan Byrne and Sava.
Ronnie McFall made the inexplicable decision at half-time to withdraw Mark Patton and replace him with Neil McCafferty, but somehow this sparked the home side into life and almost from the re-start they carved out a chance on goal.
Andrew Burns raced down the wing, beating Philip Hand before pumping a low direct ball across the face of goal in hope of a deflection. But Alan Byrne was on hand to clear the danger. This was then followed up by a Sean Mackle effort, his shot was spilled by the Drogheda keeper but cleared again by the ever vigilant Byrne.
Drogheda weathered the initial storm and on 54 minutes Gavin Brennan hit the crossbar with a backwards header, but sixty seconds later the midfielder had the ball in the net. Paul O’Conor fired in a shot which was saved, but in the ensuing goal mouth scramble the ball ended up at Gavin Brennan’s feet and he deftly lurched forward to tempt the defender and goalkeeper before keeping his composure to tap the ball past both.
David Cassidy came into the fray on 75 minutes and his first shot almost resulted in a fourth goal for Drogheda. He was more clinical with his second. Gavin Brennan turned provider when he fired a cross-field ball which was headed into Cassidy’s path by Peter Hynes and the midfielder fired a bullet header into the back of the net.
Portadown looked well beaten and Drogheda were happy to sit back and defend. Teenager Ciaran Rooney had a great chance to test Sava on 84 minutes, but the midfielder leaned back and fired his shot from eight yards high and over the bar.
As the Portadown fans were streaming out Philip Hand added a fifth to complete the rout. The final whistle was greeted by boos initially, but as Drogheda were leaving the field they received a round of applause from the remaining Ports fans. A nice gesture by the supporters who were visibly upset with what their own side produced.
Portadown: David Miskelly; Andrew Burns (Ciaran Rooney 75), Chris Ramsey, Tim Mouncey (Joe McNeill 60), Mark Patton (Neil McCafferty 46); Darren Murray, Richard Lecky, Aaron Burns, Kevin Braniff; Sean Mackle, Ross Redman.
Subs Not Used: Jamie McArdle, Ryan Burns, Orman Okunaiya, Michael McLellan.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Philip Hand, Shane Grimes, Alan Byrne, Derek Prendergast; Gavin Brennan, Eric Foley (David Cassidy 75), Ryan Brennan, Cathal Brady (Declan O’Brien 69), Paul O’Conor; Gary O’Neill (Peter Hynes 69).
Subs Not Used: Michael Schlingermann, Dean Gaynor, Jason Marks.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Extratime Man of the Match: Paul O’Conor (Drogheda United).