Ten-man Drogheda United deservedly held out for a 0-0 draw against Swedish giants Malmo at Tallaght Stadium to give themselves a fighting chance of progressing to the second qualifying round of the Europa League.
After an early half-chance for Drogheda Emil Forsberg had the first notable goal attempt on 13 minutes when his 35-yard shot had keeper Gabriel Sava scrambling across his goal.
But despite enjoying the bulk of possession the Swedes couldn’t unlock a solid Drogs defence and as the Boynesiders grew in confidence they had loud shouts for a penalty waved away as David Cassidy seemed to be tripped by Magnus Eriksson.
Their best chance of snatching the lead goal fell to Byrne when his looping header landed on the roof of the net in the 55th minute, but the Drogs had their backs to the wall after a second booking for Ryan Brennan on 75 and Sava saved brilliantly from Tokelo Rantie three minutes from time.
Drogheda lined out with their talismanic winger Gavin Brennan preferred to Shane Grimes at left-back, while Alan Byrne sat in front of the back four for added protection.
And for long spells in the first half the approach served Drogheda well as they defended solidly and prevented the Swedes creating any clear-cut opportunities.
After a quiet opening six minutes the Boynesiders brought the tie to life when Gavin Brennan collected a David Cassidy and whipped in a cross to the near post where Paul O’Conor just failed to get a touch ahead of keeper Johan Dahlin.
Dahlin’s opposite number Gabriel Sava was having trouble with his kickouts and Emil Forsberg seized on one poor clearance before sending a 35-yard whistling past the Italian’s left-hand post.
For the next 15 minutes Malmo played some tidy football near the Drogheda box but couldn’t find a pass to break through a solid rearguard, and their South Africa international striker Tokelo Rantie was fortunate to stay on the field after going in high on Derek Prendergast.
That incident seemed to rally the home side and only for a poor pass by Gary O’Neill, O’Conor would have had a great shooting chance on the half-hour.
Malmo had another lucky escape when Peter Hynes released David Cassidy through the centre and keeper Dahlin’s attempted clearance ricocheted off Erik Johansson towards goal before being scrambled clear.
Drogheda carried that momentum into the second half and two early bookings for Malmo players were a reflection of the home side taking the game to their more illustrious opponents.
Byrne almost broke the deadlock on 55 minutes following one of the those fouls when he met Cassidy’s far-post free kick with a header which landed onto the roof of the net.
And only for poor control by O’Conor in the Malmo six-yard area, the midfielder could have scored from close range from a Michael Daly cross.
But Drogheda’s chances of taking a result to Sweden next week were dealt a severe blow on 75 minutes when Ryan Brennan, having already been booked for dissent, brought down Rantie and earned a second yellow card from the Bosnia & Herzegovina referee.
After that it was backs to the wall for the League of Ireland side, and Sava earned his corn on 87 with a great save from Rantie.
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Michael Daly, Alan McNally, Derek Prendergast, Gavin Brennan; Alan Byrne; David Cassidy, Paul O’Conor, Ryan Brennan; Gary O’Neill (Declan O’Brien 67min), Peter Hynes (Brian Gannon 79min).
Malmo: Johan Dahlin; Miiko Albornoz, Pontus Jansson, Erik Johansson, Ricardinho; Jiloan Hamad, Erik Friberg (Petar Petrovic 84min), Markus Halsti, Emil Forsberg (Simon Thern 55min); Tokelo Rantie, Magnus Eriksson.
Referee: Emir Aleckovic (Bosnia & Herzegovina).