Drogheda United scored their first goals of the season but strikes from captain Paul Shiels and Robbie Farrell were not enough to see the Boynesiders earn their first win of the campaign as they were held to a 2-2 draw by Shamrock Rovers at United Park on Friday night. Drogs appeared on course for victory before Padraig Amond's late intervention.
Drogheda came into the game without a single goal in their opening four matches and they looked on course for a third successive defeat when Gary Twigg shot the visitors in front just before the midway point of the first half. Alan Mathews' men fought back bravely, though, and Shiels, who won a First Division title with Rovers in 2006, levelled matters within seconds of the restart, before Farrell put the hosts into a shock lead on 73 minutes. Amond and the Hoops had the last laugh, however, as the young striker broke Drogs hearts with just five minutes remaining.
The RTE cameras may have been trained on Dalymount Park, but the real action of the night was certainly at United Park with both sides having several chances and playing a brand of free-flowing attacking football rarely seen at this level. The return of Shane Robinson to Boyneside was greeted with silence by the Drogheda faithful, however, the midfielder failed to do much damage to his old club with a lacklustre performance. In fact, it was Twigg and Stephen Bradley, another ex-Drog, who kept Rovers in the contest with workmanlike efforts.
As in previous games, Mathews had his men set out their stall early and they pressed the Dubliners right from the first whistle, and were unlucky not to take the lead during the opening exchanges. A swerving cross from Shane Barrett almost reached the head of John Paul Kelly who was rushing in at the back post, only to be thwarted by the intervention of Simon Madden. The big defender did just enough to deflect the ball behind for a corner which Drogheda squandered.
Minutes later, Drogheda had two quick chances. First, James Chambers unleashed a fierce drive that just went wide of the post before Barrett hit a strike from 25-yards which also sailed just off target. Kelly also saw a rasping volley crash back off the post. However, it was Michael O’Neill’s men who broke the deadlock with their first goal of the season away from Tallaght Stadium. Totally against the run of play, Rovers made some progress into the Drogheda half, and earned themselves two corners, the second of which did the damage. The ball fell among the home defence and deflected off Conor Kenna into the path of Twigg, who fired in.
That was a lead that lasted until the half-time interval, however, not for long after, as Rovers were caught cold at the beginning of the second half. Within two minutes of the restart, Drogheda levelled the game as Shiels broke through the Hoops defence following a slip by Madden and the former Rovers and Dundalk midfielder made no mistake with the finish as he slotted beyond Barry Murphy to send the home fans into ecstasy.
But Rovers were not to be left behind and they almost re-established their lead when Bradley whipped in a dangerous cross which was met by Darragh Maguire, however, the defender's header went just over. Drogs left-back Robbie Clarke was then called into action as Bradley found himself through on goal and but for the defender's last-ditch tackle Rovers might have gone ahead. A sustained period of pressure from Rovers saw both Ollie Cahill and Dessie Baker go close, and just before the hour mark the visitors missed the best opportunity of the game.
A counter attack found Baker in acres of space in front of the Drogheda goal but the striker's half-hearted effort was palmed away by Steve Williams in a purely reaction save. Baker, who was coming more into the game, then managed to beat a somewhat tiring home defence but delayed in offloading the ball to a team-mate and was subsequently closed down. Then, the moment many had waited patiently for came on 73 minutes. Chambers sprinted down the left wing and a clever move from Farrell saw the striker stop dead, duping both Bermingham and Maguire, before blasting to the net from the edge of the box.
But it was not to be for Drogheda as Rovers, like dogs with a bone, hassled and harried the hosts in search of an equaliser. A goalmouth scramble on 80 minutes saw Maguire attempt an audacious bicycle kick which produced an equally acrobatic save from Williams. Rovers eventually got their equaliser, though, through substitute Amond who headed home Madden's cross at the back post to break Drogheda hearts.
The goal setup a tense final five minutes as Amond provided Twigg with the perfect opportunity to seal the win when he nodded the ball on to the striker, who took it on his chest but volleyed straight at Williams. And, with just a minute of normal time remaning, Twigg again had an opportunity, this time heading wide with the goal at his mercy. Ultimately, the sides had to settle for a share of the spoils and that seemed the fairest result considering the chances afforded to either side.
Drogheda United: Steve Williams; Ian Ryan, Conor Kenna, Alan McNally, Robbie Clarke; John Paul Kelly (Brian King 87), Paul Shiels, Paul Crowley, James Chambers; Shane Barrett (Jamie Duffy 90), Robbie Farrell.
Subs not used: Paul Skinner (gk), Michael Foley, Mark Salmon.
Booked: Crowley, Kelly.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, Darragh Maguire, Sean Webb, Ian Bermingham; Stephen Rice, Shane Robinson, Stephen Bradley, Ollie Cahill (Tadhg Purcell 76); Gary Twigg, Dessie Baker (Padraig Amond 80).
Subs not used: Robert Duggan (gk), Corie Tracey, Greg Cameron.
Referee: Declan Hanney.