On a lively evening at Head In The Game Park, Dundalk suffered defeat for the third time this season.
It is no accident that two of them came here at the hands of their local rivals. Drogheda’s cheering supporters happily reminded their guests after the final whistle as Kevin Doherty’s side clinched all three points.
They put their bodies on the line in the second half and their goalkeeper Colin McCabe failed to make a significant save, although Dundalk was under pressure at times.
On that basis, Stephen O’Donnell has little to complain about, although a setback that left Shamrock Rovers ten points clear at the top of the table left him furious with the referees and free to focus on their European efforts without any domestic stress.
This game ignited within a minute, which turned out to be the only goal. It’s not often that early mistakes are punished so efficiently, with Andy Boyle’s clumsy attempt to deal with an Evan Weir cross that was grabbed by Drogheda striker Dean Williams, who turned to use his first touch to the top corner to find, a great hit.
Dundalk was good in the fun period that followed as Dave McMillan and Dan Kelly squandered opportunities to improve things. O’Donnell’s side were clearly looking for joy with runners from deep positions and Kelly was a threat on the left.
However, Drogheda was recovering from a rough patch and with Darragh Markey in fine form as liaison, they had a few moments to themselves before the break in a fighting encounter that included a bizarre moment when O’Donnell effectively attacked midfielder Gary von Drogs Deegan, by instinctively reaching out for a ball that went over the touchline.
Referee Neil Doyle understood, but produced six yellows with tactical fouls before the break, which were punished. Both banks were frustrated.
Within 11 minutes of the reboot, O’Donnell came to life for a variety of reasons. Sensing his team needed fresh impetus, he switched heights from a back four to a defensive back three, with Kelly and substitute Ryan O’Kane at attacking full-back.
It was a clear statement of intent, and yet Sheppard, who saved a good reflex to stop Williams from close range, was the busiest goalkeeper in the immediate aftermath.
The Dundalk keeper was taken to hospital after the game to have a shoulder injury checked out.
As the checkered flag approached, Drogheda were happy to defend fairly deeply and ask questions of their neighbors. Dundalk could not find the answers.
Drogheda: McCabe, Heeney, Quinn, Cowan, Weir; Deegan, Clarke; Foley (Nugent 15), Markey, Rooney (Brennan 62); Williams.
Dundalk: Sheppard, Macari (O’Kane 56), Boyle, Connolly, Leahy; Doyle (Hoban 56), Sloggett (Bone 81); Adams (Station 56), Benson, Kelly; McMillan (Bradley 77).
Referee: N Doyle.
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