In the space of a weekend, Derry City’s lead was reduced from six points at the top of the table to just one.
With a goal on their backs, Ruaidhrí Higgins’ side have dropped points in an Easter season that screamed a chance, with a home loss to Shels followed by that tale of regret.
Despite being camped in the Drogheda half for much of the second half, Higgins’ charges could not find a way past a strong rear guard.
Late goals have marked their rise to the top of the table, but that magical touch left them here as this game seemed to be heading towards that inevitable conclusion.
With Shamrock Rovers now picking up steam, Derry will need to bounce back from disappointment quickly. Some consolation, however, will come from the central role Drogheda goalkeeper Sam Long played in the result as he earned his man of the match.
That game could have ended in battle eight minutes before the break when Derry City striker James Akintunde could put his side two goals ahead.
Instead, he failed from close range and home keeper Long showed incredible reflexes to save the ball. The Scotland Under-21 international was a brilliant loan from Lincoln and made his League One debut just before making a temporary move to Ireland.
Drogheda boss Kevin Doherty feared the breakthrough would nullify the deal, but Lincoln kept his word. They did it well.
Derry allowed the deflation of that near miss to affect them and their advantage was completely gone by the Boynesiders’ next attack with Ryan Brennan returning with his local club after a winter move from Shelbourne, expecting a miss from Evan Weir and headed one Header beyond Nathan Gartside – for the ailing Brian Maher.
In truth, Drogheda deserved the equalizer at half-time because they started the game better than their guests who are chasing the title. They worked hard on the ball to put pressure on the Candystripes in their own half and the visitors’ bench were clearly upset with possession decisions.
Slowly coming into play, Derry broke the block, quickly changing play to find space, with right-back Ronan Boyce backing up Scot Joe Thomson to control and fire a 20-yarder over his compatriot.
The Akintunde chance was the culmination of another decent passage in which Derry showed her quality but Drogheda’s response was spirited and calculated.
From the restart, however, the pattern of play was more in line with table position with Derry at the top.
The fact that Drogheda’s first sub was set to replace winger Dylan Grimes with more defensive Georgie Poynton reflected that – although the home bench were furious that Shane McEleney avoided a second yellow card over a sloppy tackle.
Long came back to the fore by denying fellow Scotsman in the park, Matty Smith, after a slide rule pass from Thomson as the pressure mounted. As the game entered its final quarter, Higgins sent for the cavalry, with Patrick McEleney, Jamie McGonigle and Brandon Kavanagh introducing a change of elevation.
The pace picked up a gear and Derry concentrated many of his attacks down Drogheda’s right flank, where young defender Andrew Quinn was given a tough challenge.
McGonigle put some real pace after Derry and he was the focus for a series of attacks and the siege was raised a notch when Shane McEleney lobbed a header off the post and burgundy and blue shirts threw each other in the ensuing scramble.
Doherty sent on Keith Cowan for the final five minutes as the corner count piled up as starting center halves Dane Massey and Seán Roughan were overworked. But as Derry continued to test and put the ball in the danger zone, the frustration grew.
When the fourth official put up the board to say four minutes remained, the suspicion remained that the drama was far from over.
But after a Kavanagh shot hissed over the bar on the turn, Drogheda regrouped to stop it.
Drogheda: Long; Quinn, Roughan, Massey, Weir; Deegan, Heeney (Cowan, 84); Grimes (Poynton, 61), Brennan (Nugent, 69), Rooney; Lyons.
Derry City: gartside; S. McEleney, Toal, McJannet; dummy; Boyce, Thomson (P. McEleney, 68); Patching, Lafferty (Kavanagh, 68); Akintunde (McGonigle 68), Smith.
Referee: Alan Patchell.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/league-of-ireland/battling-drogheda-claim-draw-as-derry-see-lead-at-top-cut-to-just-one-point-41564686.html The struggling Drogheda clinched a tie while Derry saw the lead at the top end to just a point