Enda Curran’s early strike proved to be the only goal at Eamonn Deacy Park as Galway United deservedly held out against previously unbeaten Drogheda United despite playing with ten men for over an hour after Sam Oji’s straight red.
Drogehda boss Johnny McDonnell’s plans were not helped by the unavailability of front man Daryl Kavanagh and club captain Michael Daly, with Tiernan Mulvenna and Sean Brennan starting as a front two for the visitors whose confidence was high after wins over Bray Wanderers and Sligo Rovers.
But it was the home side who got off to a blistering start, when Curran fired in his first league goal of the campaign with a stunning effort in the third minute. Finding himself isolated against centre half Alan Byrne, Curran showed admirable dexterity to turn sharply on the edge of the area, sprint clear, and calmly finish left-footed across Michael Schlingermann into the bottom corner.
United manager Tommy Dunne could hardly have wished for a better start, having made one change to the side that lost disappointingly to Bohemians last time out by introducing Jake Keegan for the injured Marc Ludden and switching to a 4-4-2 formation.
Keegan partnered Curran up front, and the two almost combined to telling effect in the seventh minute, only for the American’s run in behind to be halted by a linesman’s flag. Lloyd Buckley had a shot blocked at the other end for Drogheda United, but the fare was at best pedestrian after the blistering opening salvo.
A lovely nutmeg by Jason Molloy hinted at the technical ability of this Galway side but, on a surface not conducive to slick passing, neither side was able to patch many passes together or force any attacking set-pieces.
That was all to change on 26 minutes, though, when United centre-half Oji attempted to cushion a header back to Conor Gleeson and afforded the ball far too much cushion and not enough head. Mulvenna pounced in an instant on the mistake and Oji clipped his heels before he entered the box, leaving Graham Kelly with little option but to brandish a red card.
Sean Thornton clipped the resultant free kick high and wide via a lick of paint off the bar, and Galway were relieved to come out of the situation with their lead intact. The natives expected an onslaught, but Drogheda were slow to figure out how to use the numerical advantage as Andy O’Connell replaced Curran and moved to the heart of the defence.
Joe Gorman’s 36th minute cross from the left wing that was high and far from handsome epitomised their efforts, and Galway were next to threaten purposefully on 43 when Molloy released Keegan with a clever ball, but the forward shot from distance when well-placed and Schlingermann was untroubled.
Tommy Dunne raged on the line that Keegan had suffered similar treatment to Mulvenna earlier, but despite obvious contact, it would have been an extremely harsh call and Keegan was too honest in staying upright. The half concluded with Drogheda registering their first shot on target, but Mulvenna’s effort arrived at a comfortable speed for Gleeson to deal with.
The visitors could well have been level 32 seconds into the second half when Jason Marks ran on to a through ball only to drag a shot left and wide. The Boynesiders were pushing more bodies forward when the ball went wide, but Galway were proving a resolute defensive unit to breakdown.
A yellow card for Drogheda’s Sean Brennan led to his substitution on the hour mark as Mark Hughes made his first appearance of the season for Drogheda. Galway showed they were still capable of threatening a second when Molloy’s sumptuous pass in behind Byrne gave Keegan another run but from a tight angle Schlingermann proved his equal.
When Carl Walshe was introduced, Drogheda were in possession playing a 4-2-4, but Galway continued to be dogged, as Stephen Walsh’s timely interception on halfway with fifteen minutes left typified. Set pieces appeared their best bet for a leveller as Thornton swung in a number of decent crosses that Gleeson looked less than convincing under.
With eight minutes remaining, Thornton swung in a corner from the left and when the ball was only half cleared, Marks let fly from distance and his shot whistled past the right upright with Gleeson well beaten. Desperation had well and truly set in for the visitors, but O’Connell and Walsh remained solid at the back for The Tribesmen.
The home fans appreciated the efforts and became more vocal as the clock ticked down, and an unlikely outcome when Oji departed was becoming more and more of a possibility. The closing minutes became little more than a backs-versus-forwards exercise as Drogheda piled bodies into the Galway half, but despite Michael Scott heading a gilt-edged chance wide from Stephen Maher’s late cross, Galway United collected a hard-earned three points.
Galway United: Conor Gleeson; Alex Byrne, Sam Oji, Stephen Walsh, Colm Horgan; Gary Shanahan, Paul Sinnott, Ryan Connolly, Jason Molloy (David O’Leary, 77); Jake Keegan (Padraic Cunningham, 84), Enda Curran (Andy O’Connell, 31).
Subs not used: Conor Winn (gk), Conor Barry, Cormac Raftery, Antaine O’Laoi.
Drogheda United: Michael Schlingermann; Joe Gorman, Alan Byrne, Neil Yadolahi, Lloyd Buckley (Carl Walshe, 67); Cathal Brady (Michael Scott, 78), Sean Thornton, Stephen Maher, Jason Marks; Sean Brennan (Mark Hughes, 60), Tiernan Mulvenna.
Subs not used: Dylan Connolly (gk), Matthew Rooney, Lee Duffy, Shane Dunne.
Referee: Graham Kelly.
Official Attendance: 1,375
Extratime Man of the Match: Stephen Walsh (Galway United).