In a typically fast and frantic Louth derby, Drogheda United and Dundalk were forced to share the spoils following a competitive 1-1 draw.
The league leaders hit the front on 19 minutes as top scorer Pat Hoban powered a header into the far corner of the goal but Dundalk’s joy was to last mere seconds as Gary O’Neill fired a spectacular drive into the roof of the net.
Both sides started the game unchanged from their respective wins last week; Drogheda putting four goals past UCD without reply while the Lilywhites ground out a crucial 2-1 victory away to their nearest rivals Cork City.
The hosts started the game on the front foot and forced a corner within the opening minute as Gavan Holohan’s delivery found Michael Daly free in the penalty area only for the midfielder’s first time shot to be quickly blocked.
Undefeated in twelve games, Dundalk began to cut through the home side with ease as Chris Shields’ diagonal ball found Darren Meenan, and the former Drogheda man rounded Micheál Schlingermann, but his effort from a tight angle was gathered by the recovering goalkeeper.
Schlingermann was in action again on ten minutes as Andy Boyle connected with Meenan’s corner but his goal bound header was deflected into the grateful path of the Mayo man.
Swift one-touch football down the left from the visitors created their next opening on goal as Dane Massey’s lofted ball found Kurtis Byrne in acres of space and his shot was blocked on the goal line by the recovering Ciaran McGuigan.
Drogheda’s luck was to eventually run out as Hoban evaded the attention of his marker from another Meenan corner to head the ball past Schlingermann from eight yards.
The old football adage of you are at your most vulnerable when you have just scored was to ring true as, straight from kickoff, United worked the ball into the box and O’Neill turned Boyle to smash a stunning, rising effort high into the goal.
The Boynesiders almost completed a remarkable turnaround moments later when McGuigan got on the end of Holohan’s deep set piece but he failed to keep his header on target.
Dundalk were to fritter away two excellent chances to regain the lead before the break as Daryl Horgan diverted Sean Gannon’s cross wide from only a couple of yards out and Gannon found space down the right again but he shot into the side netting much to the frustration of his teammates.
Both Brennan and Holohan were to send speculative efforts wide of goal shortly after the interval and on 55 minutes clever interplay between O’Neill and Holohan found Cathal Brady on the edge of the box and the winger’s first time volley was beaten away by Peter Cherrie.
The table toppers still carried a significant goal threat and Byrne should have done better with his free kick from 22 yards after Brennan was adjudged to have fouled Richie Towell.
There was a shortage of goal scoring chances as the game drew to a close with both sides struggled for midfield dominance but Drogheda nearly grabbed a winner deep into the stoppage time as McGuigan’s header bounced narrowly beyond the far post.
Given Cork’s late victory over St. Pat’s, Dundalk’s lead at the top of the table has been cut to four points but this may prove to be a point gained rather than two lost against a spirited Drogheda side.
Drogheda United: Micheál Schlingermann; Daire Doyle, Alan McNally, Ciaran McGuigan, Shane Grimes; Cathal Brady, Michael Daly (Peter McGlynn 79), Gavan Holohan, Gavin Brennan, Carl Walshe; Gary O’Neill (Declan O’Brien 90 +2).
Subs not used: Roy Kierans, Paul Andrews, Sean O’Connor, Garreth Brady, Dylan Connolly.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Brian Gartland, Dane Massey; Darren Meenan, Richie Towell, Chris Shields, Daryl Horgan; Kurtis Byrne (Donal McDermott 71); Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 84).
Subs not used: Mark Rossiter, Ruaidhri Higgins, Marc Griffin, Gabriel Sava.
Referee: Neil Doyle
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gavin Brennan (Drogheda United)