The 150th Louth derby turned out to be a classic as Dundalk hit two goals in the space of two minutes to rise from the dead and secure a draw against neighbours Drogheda United at Oriel Park on Holy Thursday.
Goals from Graham Rusk and Ryan Brennan looked to have given Mick Cooke’s side the local bragging rites going into the Easter period.
However the Lilywhites struck back with a Keith Ward free-kick and a John Dillon penalty hauling Stephen Kenny’s men level.
Drogheda played the final 14 minutes with ten men following Alan Byrne’s dismissal. And substitute John Sullivan could have won all three points for the Lilywhites right at the death only for Gabriel Sava to make a fine stop.
Drogheda arrived at Oriel Park with four former Dundalk players in their team; Stephen Quigley, Fabio O’Brien, Shane Grimes and David Cassidy. Substitute Peter Hynes took that number to five in Cooke’s match-day squad.
Kenny made two changes to the side that beat UCD in the previous game with Tiarnan Mulvenna and Darren Meenan promoted to the starting XI.
The duo combined for the first opening of the game after eight minutes. John Mountney found Meenan in a central area. His pass located Mulvenna but the striker’s shot couldn’t match the impressive run which took him between full-back and centre-half and Sava made an easy save.
The Drogs threatened two minutes later. Eric Foley’s corner from the right was only cleared to the edge of the penalty area where Ryan Brennan was on hand to guide a fantastic volley against the Dundalk crossbar.
The visitors enjoyed a decent spell of pressure after that with the other Brennan, Gavin, finding joy on the Dundalk right. Indeed, it was the left sided player who won the free-kick that led to Drogheda’s opener after 20 minutes, drawing a foul from Mark Rossiter after showing quick feet to get away from the full-back.
Foley’s delivery was again only partially cleared to the edge of the Dundalk box and Graham Rusk was the quickest to react, following in David Cassidy’s first time volley to beat the offside trap and sweep the ball past Peter Cherrie from close range.
Dundalk struggled to respond with the Drogs back four limiting the home side to shots from long range. Meenan, John Dillon, and Richie Towell all failing to test Sava.
The Boynesiders looked the most likely and they should have put the game beyond doubt with two great chances before the break.
In the 31st minute a cross from the right was badly misjudged by Chris Shields. Gavin Brennan met the bouncing ball to direct a header towards the top left hand corner but Cherrie was on hand to make a wonderful save.
Five minutes later and Dundalk were on the rack again. Cassidy, who seemed to pop up everywhere in the first-half, curled a delicious ball in from the right but Gavin Brennan, who did the hard part in holding off Mark Rossiter, could only head wide with the goal at his mercy.
Kenny’s side lacked the spark which was was evident in their first three games. A hefty tackle by Byrne, which left Mulvenna in a heap right in front of the home bench and threatened to start a melee, looked like it would fire them up but they lacked a cutting edge.
Kenny replaced the hapless Shields at the break, bringing on former Drogheda United player John Sullivan in his place. It was the visitors, though, who threatened early on with Cassidy’s 25-yard drive whistling just past Cherrie’s post.
Doubled the lead
Despite the best efforts of Mulvenna and John Dillon, the Oriel outfit were still struggling to make inroads into the Drogs backline and it was no surprise when Kenny introduced Ward in the 67th minute.
The former Bohs man was just getting into the swing of things when the Drogs doubled their lead five minutes later. O’Brien nicked the ball out to Cassidy on the right and Ryan Brennan got in ahead of Cherrie to seemingly put the game to bed.
The drama was only beginning to unfold however and Ward finally gave the home crowd something to cheer about when he left Sava with no chance with a great free-kick in the 75th minute.
Buoyed on by the majority of the 2198 in attendance, the Lilywhites sensed a way back into the game and they were sensationally level 60 seconds later.
John Dillon’s ball sent Mulvenna haring through on goal. His touch took the ball inside Byrne with the defender taking the striker down with an outstretched leg. Referee Padraic Sutton was quick to point to the spot before sending Byrne off and Dillon dispatched the penalty, despite the best efforts of Sava, to confirm Dundalk’s Easter Rising.
DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie, Mark Rossiter ©, Andy Boyle, Chris Shields (John Sullivan HT), Dane Massey; John Dillon, Richie Towell, John Mountney (Keith Ward 67); Darren Meenan (Vinny Faherty 84), Kurtis Byrne, Tiarnan Mulvenna. Unused subs: Eoghan Osborne, Patrick Hoban, Stephen McDonnell, Aaron Shanahan (GK).
DROGHEDA UNITED: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Alan Byrne, Brian Gannon, Shane Grimes; Graham Rusk (Philip Hand 79), Eric Foley, Ryan Brennan (Paul O’Conor 74), Gavin Brennan; David Cassidy, Declan O’Brien © (Peter Hynes 81). Unused subs: Philip Hand, Alan McNally, Paul O’Conor, Peter Hynes, Dean Gaynor, Jason Marks, Michael Schlingermann (GK).
REFEREE: Padraic Sutton.