By Killian McHale
Shamrock Rovers made the journey up the M1 to Weavers Park to face Kevin Doherty’s Drogheda United on Friday night, as both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils in a thrilling game.
Rovers found themselves ahead early in the second half through Graham Burke, but the Hoops were dealt a double blow with Lee Grace and Daniel Cleary both receiving red cards late on in the game before Drogheda found the equaliser through Ryan Brennan in the final minute of normal time.
Stephen Bradley made two changes to his side that drew 1-1 in Sligo last weekend, with Gary O’Neill replacing the suspended Roberto Lopes in the back three while Johnny Kenny made his first league start for the Hoops in place of Rory Gaffney up top.
Rovers looked to take control right from the get-go, with Markus Poom having an effort fly narrowly over Colin McCabe’s crossbar inside the first 15 seconds of the game before the Estonian midfielder had another effort from distance after 7 minutes that forced McCabe into a save at his near post.
Rovers continued to pin the hosts into their own half, and almost opened the scoring through Johnny Kenny after 10 minutes. A Daniel Cleary header played Kenny in behind the Drogheda defence before Kenny forced McCabe into another low save to keep the score level.
The game entered a lull after this, and despite Rovers seeing most of the ball, Stephen Bradley’s side were finding it difficult to break down the stubborn Drogheda defence.
The hosts had their best chance of the half just before the half-hour mark, when Adam Foley fired a half-volley inches past Alan Mannus’ post, much to the relief of the Rovers contingent in Weavers Park.
Lee Grace was shown a yellow card for a foul on Lincoln City loanee Fred Draper just before the half-time whistle, a card that would come back to bite Rovers late on, as both sides went in scoreless at the break.
Rovers started the second period much stronger with Graham Burke and Johnny Kenny both coming close to opening the scoring before Burke eventually broke the deadlock 8 minutes into the half.
A Jack Byrne corner was missed by Colin McCabe in the Drogheda goal, the ball bounced off a Drogheda defender before Burke reacted quickest to fire home inside the 6-yard box to net his second goal in as many games to give the Hoops the lead.
Both sides created good opportunities to score after this, with Draper almost getting on the end of a Darragh Markey corner for the home side, before Neil Farrugia fired over the Drogheda goal moments later.
With 69 minutes on the clock, Rovers were inches away from doubling their lead when a Lee Grace half-volley hit the Drogheda crossbar from a Byrne corner before disaster struck just minutes later when Grace was shown a second yellow for a foul on Elicha Ahui outside the Rovers penalty area and was giving his marching orders.
Drogheda thought they levelled the scoring from the resulting free-kick, only for Alan Mannus to somehow keep Dayle Rooney’s effort out as the Hoops breathed a sigh of relief.
Rovers were working hard off the ball to make up for the man disadvantage, but this task became even more difficult ten minutes from time when Daniel Cleary was shown two yellow cards in two minutes as Rovers were forced to play the remainder of the game with nine men.
Drogheda pushed bodies forward in search of an equaliser, which would come in the 89th minute when the ball pinballed across the Rovers penalty area before falling to the feet of Ryan Brennan who fired beyond Mannus to level the scoring.
The drama didn’t stop there, as Drogheda were inches away from nicking all three points in the 94th minute, only for substitute Sean Gannon to intercept Keeley’s knock-down for Grimes inside the Rovers six-yard box with the Rovers goal at his mercy.
Rovers dealt with the resulting corner before referee Sean Grant blew for full-time in a hugely entertaining and dramatic game in Weavers Park.
Rovers now turn their attention to their first home league game next Friday (3rd March), as Stephen Bradley’s side welcomes Derry City FC to Tallaght Stadium for an 8 pm kick-off, in what promises to be another thrilling game between two of the top clubs in the country at present.
Drogheda United: McCabe; Ahui, Curtis (12’ Adegboyega), Keeley, Weir (87’ Davis); Deegan ©, Brennan; Foley (65’ Grimes), Markey, Rooney; Draper.
Drogheda United Unused Subs: Pagel (GK), O’Brien, Jones, Brennan, Heeney, Noone.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Cleary, O’Neill, Grace ©, Farrugia, Watts (84’ Towell), Poom, Clarke, Byrne (81’ Nugent), Kenny (84’ Gaffney), Burke (76’ Gannon).
Shamrock Rovers Unused Subs: Pohls (GK), Greene, Power, Burt, Cruise.