DROGHEDA UNITED continue to hold the ‘Indian sign’ over Derry City after the ‘Boynesiders’ salvaged a draw to ensure this Setanta Sports Cup tie remains in the balance going into next Monday night’s second leg at Hunky Dory’s Park.
SIMON COLLINS was at Brandywell Stadium
Photos: STEPHEN LATIMER
Derry lost all three encounters against Mick Cooke’s troops last season and despite having dominated the first half of this entertaining clash, the visitors did enough to take home a credible 1-1 draw.
Rory Patterson got Derry’s 2013 campaign off to an emphatic start with terrific 30-yard free-kick after just 10 minutes but Drogheda striker, Declan O’Brien netted the equalising goal eight minutes into the second half.
Derry boss, Declan Devine was without the services of influential midfielder Barry Molloy (suspended), Sean Houston (ankle), Paddy Kavanagh (hamstring) and Dermot McCaffrey (groin).
Far from ideal circumstances for the Derry manager as next Friday’s league opener against Premier Division champions, Sligo Rovers looms large.
Michael Rafter was the only close season signing to make the starting line-up with Mark Griffin, Thomas Crawley and James Gallagher all named on the bench.
But considering it was the ‘Candy Stripes’ first competitive match of the season, they appeared confident and sharp when in possession and it was one-way traffic during the opening half hour.
Patrick McEleney, deployed on the right wing, was the first to test the reflexes of the visiting goalkeeper on eight minutes when curling a left-footed strike towards the far post but Gabriel Sava gathered cleanly.
Two minutes later the home side broke the deadlock in some style when Patterson’s long range free-kick low took a slight bounce in the six yard box to deceive Sava and nestle into the corner.
Derry continued to look dangerous in the final third as the lively Barry McNamee carved his way skilfully through the Drogheda defence on 17 minutes before unleashing his shot from just inside the area which forced Sava to parry clear. The ball found its way to Derry skipper, Kevin Derry who was lurking just outside the 18 yard box and his superbly struck first time volley went narrowly wide of the upright.
It was a promising opening from the home team but Drogheda gradually got to grips with the game and could have restored parity on 28 minutes through centre-half, Alan Byrne. Gerard Doherty misjudged the flight of the ball as Eric Foley floated in a free-kick from the left but Gary O’Neill’s shot on the turn was deflected away from the target. The ball was worked to the back post where Byrne headed towards goal and Doherty managed to scramble back and tip the ball over the crossbar to avert the danger.
Drogheda burst out of the traps at the start of the second half and eight minutes after the restart O’Brien drifted away from Ryan McBride all too easily leaving himself plenty of time to pick his spot and he made no mistake from 12 yards.
Derry almost capitalised from a quick counter led by Patrick McEleney on the hour mark but when Simon Madden crossed invitingly towards Patterson, the striker’s low shot went inches wide of the near post.
The game was developing into a much more open encounter as Drogheda fashioned a promising chance when Gavin Brennan – who appeared suspiciously in an offside position – got in behind the Derry defence before finding his brother Ryan who blasted over the bar.
Second half substitute Thomas Crawley came so close to winning the match on his Derry debut when heading narrowly wide from Stewart Greacen’s headed pass with three minutes remaining.
However, neither side could fashion that winning strike in the end but Derry will take plenty of confidence going into next Monday night’s second leg.
Derry City – 4-4-1-1 - Gerard Doherty; Shane McEleney, Ryan McBride (Ryan Curran 92m), Stewart Greacen, Simon Madden; Patrick McEleney, Kevin Derry, Ruaidhri Higgins (Thomas Crawley 78m), Barry McNamee; Rory Patterson,Michael Rafter (Marc Griffin 75mins); Subs Not Used – James Gallagher, Tony McNamee, Sean Curran.
Drogheda United – 4-5-1 -Gabriel Sava; Mick Daly, Derek Pendergast, Alan Byrne, Shane Grimes; Declan O’Brien, Eric Foley, Ryan Brennan Paul O’Connor, Gavin Brennan; Gary O’Neill (Peter Hynes 83m); Subs Not Used – Michael Slingerman, Philip Hand, Cathal Brady, Graham Rusk, David Cassidy, Brian Gannon.
Referee – Raymond Hetherington (Tyrone).