Drogheda United 3-2 Shamrock Rovers (AET)
Enda McGuill League Cup, 1st Round.
The Hoops had a very good first half, firing on all cylinders and looking good value all round. Looking solid at the back and with a central midfield trio of Harry Cornally, Richie English and James Doona, they weren’t giving the home side a sniff of the ball. Emmanuel Lawel was enjoying his best game since returning to the club this year.
Both teams went for it straight from the start. No time was wasted in sizing each other up. Despite being a cup game there was no slow build up, it was straight into the fray. A back-pass in the 9th minute led to the awarding of an indirect free kick to the Hoops. The Drogheda bench hotly disputed the award but this writer, with a much better and close up view, agrees that the officials got the decision spot on. Richie English slotted the ball to James Doona who drove it into the back of the net to give the Hoops the lead.
Rovers might have gone ahead further in the 25th minute after a well-worked move involving Aaron Dobbs, Harry Cornally and Doona finished with the latter knocking the ball just over the bar. It should have been number two for them two minutes later but Cornally’s strike came crashing off the crossbar.
The home side had a chance themselves in the 29th minute when Nathan Seery sent in a high free kick but it was headed over by Stephen Meaney. The game was flowing fast and a minute later Dobbs threw himself at an incoming delivery on the right from Cornally but went just wide of the post.
There was no let up when the second half began with the Hoops still looking good. Drog’s David Harper managed to get a critical block in to deny Doona before Meaney went wide of the post with an effort for the home side. A good run by Hanney down the right saw the full back take the ball into the box and smack a hard shot which landed in front of Luke Rossiter who drove it through a crowded area and over the line to make it 2-0.
A critical moment occurred in the 64th minute when Rovers’ keeper Luca Gratzer suffered a leg injury. It looked doubtful that he would be able to continue and with no second keeper available from the bench it was a worrying moment for the Hoops. Gratzer was able to continue but clearly was carrying an injury. A short while later Doona was withdrawn and Darragh Gibbons was introduced. Cian Collins was pushed up from the back to midfield. The events of these few minutes sent a signal out to the Drogs with the home supporters calling for pressure to be put onto Gratzer. Doona’s withdrawal further encouraged the home side as Rovers were just not the same after he went off.
Four minutes after Doona’s withdrawal Gratzer conceded a penalty. There can’t be any doubt that had he been fit he would have had it covered. Meaney sent Gratzer the wrong way when slotting the ball into the net to make it 2-1.
Drogheda were now enjoying their best spell of the game as Rovers became disjointed. It got worse for them when Lawal was forced to leave the pitch. He was replaced by Conor Fitzharris. The equaliser came in the 82nd minute after Gratzer had managed to palm the ball into the air but was beaten to it by Mark Doyle when it came back down, the Drog’s man rising to head it over the line.
Dobbs went seriously close almost on the stroke of full time with a glancing header. Two periods of extra time were then required. The decisive goal came in the 99th minute and what a goal it was too. James Carroll, having busted his way through the Hoops’ defence, made the decision to shoot from long distance leaving Gratzer well beaten in the process. There was never really a later rally from the Hoops either but there can’t be any doubt that events early in the second half undone their chances of advancing to the next round.
The Rovers’ team was as follows:
25. Luca Gratzer; 2. Shane Hanney, 21. Sean Callan, 16. Cian Collins, 3. Conor Gleeson; 19. Emmanuel Lawal, 10. Richie English, 8. Harry Cornally, 17. James Doona, 7. Luke Rossiter; 9. Aaron Dobbs.
Substitutes: Darragh Gibbons for Doona (62 mins), Conor Fitzharris for Lawal for Lawal (71 mins), Dan Howlin for Collins (98 mins), James Clarke for Rossiter (114 mins).
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Match report and photos by Robert Goggins.