Second-half goals by James Chambers and Brian King proved decisive as Drogheda United comfortably secured their League of Ireland Premier Division status at the expense of Bray Wanderers at United Park tonight.
Home spectators invaded the pitch at the final whistle as the Boynesiders celebrated their success, while Eddie Gormley’s Bray now face a two-leg play-off final against Sporting Fingal to decide their fate.
In a lively start Bray keeper Chris O’Connor saved at the feet of Robbie Martin, and John Mulroy fired over the bar for the visitors – both chances coming inside the first 35 seconds.
O’Connor was called into action three more times in quick succession, clutching efforts by Ross Gaynor and James Chambers before diving to his right to push Robbie Martin’s diagonal shot around the post.
But the Seagulls had a great chance on 17 minutes when a lucky deflection in midfield suddenly put Ian Tuohy in the clear, but he was forced wide by Drogheda keeper Paul Skinner and the youngster’s shot from an acute angle was cleared from the line by Chambers.
And it took a vital interception from Alan McNally to prevent John Flood getting on the end of a John Mulroy cross in the 28th minute as the visitors continued to look dangerous on the counter.
O’Connor remained the busier of the two keepers, though, and on 31 minutes he saved at point-blank range from Gaynor after the former Millwall ace ran onto Martin’s pass.
An uneventful half-hour either side of half-time followed as the game became increasingly tense and scrappy, but all that changed in the 60th minute.
Eric McGill was wrestled to the ground by John Mulroy as he advanced towards the 18-yard line, setting up a dangerous free kick position, and Drogheda top scorer Chambers did the rest, bending the ball into the bottom right corner of O’Connor’s net.
Needing a goal to force extra time, Bray struggled to win possession in the Boynesiders’ half, let alone create a chance worthy of note, while the home side seemed content to play keep-ball in the opposition half.
Victory was all but secured in the 82nd minute when substitute Guy Bates threaded the ball through to Gaynor, and when his shot came back off the post Brian King was on hand to force the rebound to the net.
Bray’s woes were complete when John Mulroy got his marching orders for a second bookable offence a minute later.
Drogheda United: 1 Paul Skinner; 2 James Chambers, 5 Alan McNally, 4 Conor Kenna, 3 Robbie Clarke; 7 Brendan McGill, 6 Paul Crowley, 8 Eric McGill, 11 Brian King; 9 Robbie Martin (14 Guy Bates 60), 10 Ross Gaynor.
Subs not used: 20 Joe Flanagan.
Booked: E McGill (46).
Bray Wanderers: 1 Chris O’Connor; 2 Derek Pender, 5 Dave Mulcahy, 4 Chris Deans, 3 Gary Cronin; 11 Ian Tuohy (14 Gary McCabe 73), 6 Chris Shields (15 Stephen Brennan 42), 8 Daire Doyle, 7 Gareth Coughlan, 9 John Mulroy, 10 John Flood (Jake Kelly 69).
Subs not used: 25 Brian Kane.
Booked: Mulroy (59), Pender (90), McCabe (90).
Sent off: Mulroy (83).
Referee: Damien Hancock (Dublin).