DERRY City hearts were broken at Hunky Dorys Park in Drogheda last night, the “Candy Stripes” crashing out of the Setanta Sports Cup following a late, late injury time winner from Ryan Brennan.
However, despite the defeat, there’s no doubt that Derry boss, Declan Devine, will have any issues with his side’s performance given that Patrick McEleney was forced to limp off with a leg injury before the break while young centre-back, Ryan McBride, was ordered off by referee, Neil Doyle, following a robust challenge on Drogheda striker, Gary O’Neill.
Add in the fact that Derry custodian, Gerard Doherty, saved a 43rd minute penalty and one gets to understand that Derry certainly put in a heavy shift in the below freezing points conditions.
Drogheda substitute, Ryan Brennan, was hailed the hero for the ‘Boynesiders’ as his dramatic stoppage time winner paid for their semi-final ticket and a date with Sligo Rovers in the last four of this year’s tournament.
Given the bitterly cold conditions, it was probably no surprise that it took a quarter of an hour before anything of note occurred but when it did, the move almost yielded a goal for the home side.
Gavin Brennan’s excellent work on the edge of the box set up David Cassidy whose shot appeared destined for the bottom corner until Kevin Deery somehow showed up to whip the ball off his goal-line with O’Neill ready to pounce.
Immediately at the other end Derry went close to breaking the deadlock when Patrick McEleney let fly from 25 yards but Gabriel Sava produced a top draw save diverting the effort wide of his post at the expense of a corner.
With half an hour gone Drogheda again threatened as David Cassidy stole in at the back post to shoot towards goal, however, Derry Captain, Deery, was again on hand again to clear the danger and prevent a goal.
As the half drew to a conclusion Sava was smartly off his line to deny McEleney with a solid challenge after which the Derry man had to limp off the field injured, yet another injury worry for the Foyleside club.
Drogheda then won a penalty two minutes before the break after McBride upended Gary O’Neill following a poor pass from Barry Molloy. But O’Neill picked himself up and took the resulting kick which he hit meekly and straight at keeper Doherty who made the easiest of stops.
The second half was three minutes old and Derry found themselves down to 10 men when McBride was shown a straight red card for what appeared a robust challenge on O’Neill who was subsequently stretchered off with a nasty looking injury.
Drogheda began to impose themselves on the game and Gavin Brennan’s spectacular effort from 35 yards saw Doherty tip the ball over while at the other end Michael Rafter fired over from a good position.
Derry then stunned the home attendance when they hit the front on 64 minutes taking full advantage of a Brian Gannon defensive rror which allowed the alert Rafter in to stroke the ball gleefully home from close range.
And Doherty denied Gavin Brennan an immediate equaliser with a superb stop minutes later but the visitors lead was cancelled out when the busy Brennan set up Derek Prendergast who drove the ball to the net from the right.
And there was to be a dramatic sting at the end as everyone prepared themselves for extra time, Drogheda netted a second goal in the fourth additional minute of five when Philip Hand’s cross was headed towards the target by Declan “Fabio” O’Brien - who netted at the Brandywell - Gerard Doherty could only push the ball onto his crossbar and as the loss ball dropped to earth, Ryan Brennan immediately rattled it into the net for a late, late winner.
Drogheda United - Sava, Hand, Prendergast, O’Conor, O’Neill (O’Brien 52), G Brennan, Rusk (Hynes, 80), Cassidy, Gannon, Daly (R Brennan, 74), Byrne.
Derry City - Doherty, Molloy, S McEleney, Higgins, Deery, P McEleney (Griffin 45), Patterson, McBride, Rafter (Curran 69), Madden, McNamee.
Referee - Mr. Neil Doyle (Dublin).