Drogheda United maintained their unbeaten start to post-lockdown league action on Friday, as Mark Doyle scored for the third league game in succession to set Tim Clancy’s side on their way to a comfortable 3-1 win over Bray Wanderers at United Park.
While First Division football doesn’t tend to bring with it masses of supporters who flock to the Windmill Road every second Friday in the season, this game was noteworthy in the sense that it was the Drogs first home outing in an empty ground. Instead, fans were invited to view a live stream via YouTube. Whilst the TV cameras- and the new WatchLOI streaming platform confine themselves to Premier Division grounds, this innovation is heartening to see.
Supporters watching on from the comfort of home were treated to two early first half goals from Doyle and James Clarke, before substitute Stephen Meaney struck late on to seal a much needed three points. Sean McEvoy’s goal for Bray had halved the deficit early in the second period and without the comfort of the two-goal cushion, no viewer, nor boss Clancy, was sitting easy.
As it transpired, league leaders Cabinteely dropped two points at Wexford meaning their lead is now just three points.
The home team came into the game off the back of the impressive comeback against Shamrock Rovers last weekend, a heartening 2-2 draw given Drogheda played for an hour with ten men and had come from two goals down to earn a point. With that filip, United started off well and Doyle converted their first genuine opportunity, ably assisted by last weekend’s hero Brandon Bermingham, who provided the cross from the right.
James Clarke, making his first start of the campaign, soon doubled the lead with a superb volley. Jake Hyland’s free kick was headed more up than out and Clarke controlled superbly, flicking the ball over the Bray defender before unleashing a stunning left foot volley into the net. It was a truly special moment and had there been a live crowd to savour it, it would have received an almighty roar, perhaps even a round of appreciative applause from the away following.
Another teenager, his first senior goal will please his manager who is now seeing his young teams weighing in with decisive moments in key games. While the truncated season may mean fewer games and less opportunity for minutes for many members of his squad, Clancy will hope that competition among his panel will keep players on their toes and minds focused.
Wanderers’ 19-year-old goalkeeper Brian Maher redoubled his efforts between the sticks and made some fine saves, including one from a well placed Bermingham set-piece and another to deny Chris Lyons’ in a one-on-one. David Odumuso wasn’t to be outdone, however, saving from Sean McEvoy.
Bray’s Killian Cantwell got a header on target from Paul Keegan’s free kick, but again Odumuso was comfortable. Doyle was proving a constant menace and Gary Cronin’s visitors were dealt a further blow just prior to the break when talismanic striker Gary Shaw withdrew through injury.
McEvoy’s goal eight minutes after the break gave Bray fresh imeptus and they should have levelled when Derek Daly went close and then ex-Galway United man Killian Cantwell sent an effort over the bar. The missed chances offered moments of relief for United, with the prospect of dropping points difficult to countenance.
As it stood, it mattered little. On the pitch for just five minutes, Stephen Meaney was on hand to convert Bermingham’s cross with just two minutes of normal time remaining to see off Bray and move of the teams below them, poised too for a tilt at promotion to the top tier for 2021.
Bray, to their credit, had a series of half-chances – McEvoy again had the best of them – but United held firm and their first pock-lockdown three points were secure.
DROGHEDA UNITED: David Odumuso, James Brown, Jack Tuite, Derek Prendergast, Conor Kane, Jake Hyland (Sean Brennan, 46), Richie O’Farrell, Brandon Bermingham (Hugh Douglas, 89), Mark Doyle, James Clarke (Ryan O’Shea, 65), Chris Lyons (Stephen Meaney, 81).
Subs: Ross Treacy, Jordan Adeyemo, Frank Cabraley.
BRAY WANDERERS: Brian Maher, Dylan Barnett, Killian Cantwell, John Ross Wilson, Sean McEvoy (Marlon Marishta, 88), Paul Keegan (Darragh Lynch, 76), Derek Daly, Callum Thompson, Luka Lovic, Gary Shaw (Ryan Graydon, 44), Joe Doyle.
Subs: Jack Watson, Adam Hayden, Tristan Noack-Hofmann, Aaron Barry.