By Barry Landy
Drogheda United and Finn Harps will go into the second leg of their First Division play-off second leg in Ballybofey next week all square as the two sides cancelled each other out in an entertaining draw at United Park.
Ciaran Kelly’s early goal put Drogheda in control but Nathan Boyle sprung from the bench in the second half to level.
Harps boss Ollie Horgan ended the night the happier of the two managers considering the goal was scarcely deserved. His side were second best for most of the match against a Drogheda team who had emerged through 120 minutes and a shootout just four days earlier.
Kelly, the centre-back, notched his sixth goal of a prolific campaign after just 12 minutes. Sean Brennan’s corner was flicked on at the near post and although Chris Lyons got in the way to stop the ball on the line, it ricocheted to Kelly who hammered home.
Brennan, Lyons and the superb teenage winger Mark Doyle all went close to doubling the Drogheda lead before Finn Harps carved out some chances of their own.
After a goalmouth scramble, Gareth Harkin’s shot was diverted away by the outstretched toe of Paul Skinner before Mikey Place was denied by the assistant’s flag. The Drogheda stopper was called upon again to block Place’s fiercely struck shot.
Without captain Jake Hyland, another young teen William Hondermarck shone in midfield for the hosts. A boy for the big occasion, he has played in some of United’s biggest games this season. At 17, he’s yet to look overawed.
Harps were not much improved in the second half, in truth. Their first real effort on goal came on the hour mark. Ciaran Coll shot over from the edge of the area. With some big names on the bench, Ollie Horgan decided to twist. He brought on Boyle and then Paddy McCourt. The former made the difference.
The striker took advantage of some very lax defending from the home side. Ciaran Gallagher’s long clearance was allowed to bounce by Kevin Farragher and Luke Gallagher. Boyle stole in and with Skinner racing out to meet him, he finished into an empty net.
Drogheda finished the stronger but Harps have home advantage at Finn Park next Friday. Limerick await the winner.
Drogheda United: Paul Skinner, Colm Deasy, Luke Gallagher, Kevin Farragher, Ciaran Kelly, Conor Kane, William Hondermarck, Kealon Dillon, Sean Brennan, Mark Doyle, Chris Lyons.
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher, Sam Todd, Keith Cowan, Niall Logue, John Kanavangh, Gareth Harkin (Mark Coyle, 51), Jacob Borg, Ciaran Coll, Mark Timlin (Paddy McCourt, 68), Jesse Devers (Nathan Boyle, 62), Mikey Place.
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin)