Drogheda United 1-2 Cobh Ramblers (Drogheda win 3-2 on agg)
On-loan forward Gareth McCaffrey struck the decisive goal in spectacular fashion as Drogheda United progressed to the Airtricity League Promotion/Relegation Play-off after surviving a major scare against Cobh Ramblers at United Park.
Two goals in the opening seven minutes cancelled out Drogheda's first-leg lead and the home side needed a man of the match display by their keeper Stephen McGuinness to deny the Munster side an unlikely aggregate win.If there were any neutrals in the crowd they must have been rubbing their hands in glee when Cobh struck the first blow after all of 38 seconds.
When a Drogheda attack broke down Rob Lehane sent a raking 50-yard pass over the home defence and it was all too easy for Conor Ellis as he dribbled into the box before shooting low past a stunned goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness.
That remarkable start became a sensational one in the seventh minute when the home defence failed to deal with a long throw-in and Shane O'Connor turned sharply in the box before rifling past the out-stretched right hand of McGuinness. In the blink of an eye Drogheda's two-goal lead from their away leg had been wiped out.
It took until mid-way through the half before the hosts registered a shot, Jake Hyland's effort grazing the upright, but it was enough to settle a few nerves and the Boynesiders dominated the second quarter without ever testing Cobh netminder Paul Hunt.
Indeed, the hosts should have found themselves behind on aggregate right on the stroke of half-time when Lehane planted a cross straight onto the head of Matthew Whelan, only for McGuinness to keep out the youngster's effort from point-blank range.
Drogs centre-half Kevin Farragher was off target with a header straight after the restart and Cobh were denied by McGuinness again on 55 minutes when the keeper he dived low to his right to parry an Ellis shot.The home side needed inspiration and they got it in the 61st minute as they regained control of the tie with a superb goal.
Adam Wixted wrong-footed two Cobh defenders to turn the ball on to his left foot before swinging over a deep cross which McCaffrey volleyed past Paul Hunt from an angle.
Cobh found another gear and a powerful Ellis drive was beaten away by McGuinness and Lehane had a follow-up effort blocked by a defender.
Drogheda had a big escape in the 80th minute when Craig Donnellan hooked a shot against the bar and substitute Anthony O'Donnell's follow-up header was cleared off the line by Drogs centre-half Luke Gallagher.
Moments later a similar clearance off the line by Charlie Fleming from Wixted kept Cobh's hopes alive, but despite five minutes of stoppage time they couldn't muster an equaliser to force extra time and the County Louth club now face Wexford Youths over two legs next Monday and Friday for a place in next season's Premier Division.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Stephen McGuinness, Lloyd Buckley, Luke Gallagher, Kevin Farragher, Stephen Dunne, Adam Wixted, Richie Purdy, Sean Thornton, Jake Hyland, Gareth McCaffrey, Marc Griffin. Subs: Aaron Ashe for Griffin (77min), Derek Doyle for Griffin (89min).
COBH RAMBLERS: Paul Hunt, Charlie Fleming, Chris McCarthy, Kevin Mulcahy, Ian Mylod, Rob Lehane, Gary Comerford, Craig Donnellan, Shane O'Connor, Matthew Whelan, Conor Ellis. Subs: Kyle McNamara for Ellis (75min), Anthony O'Donnell for Lehane (75min), Eoin McGreevy for