EA Sports Cup
By Jonny Stapleton
Crumlin United came within seconds of making Drogheda United fall at the first hurdle of a competition they reached the final of last season.
The LSL Champions took a goal lead into injury time and looked set to take a League of Ireland scalp only for last gasp Gary O’Neill leveler ensured an extra half an hour in John Hyland Park.
The Dublin side tried to hold out for penalties, but effectively playing with nine men- Alan Mcgreal operated up front injured while Crumlin had a man chair-lifted off 100 minutes in after they made three changes- against early Eircom League front runners proved too much.
The Drogs took the lead 108 minutes in when when Shane Foley’s deft pullback was stroked home by substitute Daire Doyle before a Ross Carrig own goal put to bed any banana skin fears.
Robbie Horgan admitted he hadn’t scouted Crumlin and as a result went into this cup tie blind. The Leinster Senior League Champions opened his eyes early on as they made an impressive start. The Pearse Park side not only disrupted Drogheda’s attempts to pass the ball, but looked comfortable in possession themselves.
Alan McGreal was causing former Glebe North midfielder Austin McCann trouble down the left flank while Ger Rowe was the stand out midfielder on the park. However, Crumlin’s dominant spell didn’t produce anything in the way of clear cut chances. A long range Martin Cramer shot and a header by Ross Carrig from a Rowe free kick were the closest the came.
On the other hand the professional outfit looked dangerous anytime they got into the final third. David Meehan had to react smartly to keep out Declan O’Brien, while O’Neill and O’Brien flashed efforts from range over the bar.
An injury to Intermediate player of the year nominee Martin Cramer looked like it could hand the away side the ascendancy. However, despite being without the midfield field maestro and his centre of the park partner James Lee, who was injured post clash, the Intermediate side still held their own.
Lightweight is certainly not a term to describe the beefed up Dermot Kennedy, who replaced Cramer, and he brought steel and clever passing to the depleted midfield on his first team debut. Ger Rowe also continued to impress and marred industry with inventiveness. It was far from one way traffic, but the United in blue were certainly not over awed by the League of Ireland outfit and despite suffering another injury setback they managed to steal ahead.
Carrig rolled the ball into the feet of Barry Slatery inside the box and when the midfielder tried to turn he was bundled over by Paul Andrews. Referee Ben Connolly pointed to the spot and Alan McGreal stepped up to the plate. The tricky wide mans initial effort was saved, but he tapped home the rebound to Crumlin in front on 40 minutes.
Slattery was hurt winning the penalty and Martin Loughran, who was forced to do more reshuffling than a Vegas card dealer throughout, moved him up top meaning Crumlin struggled for an out ball. As a result Drogs were able to build from the back and took control, however in Derek Griffin they meet a defender inspired. The centre back was nothing short of sensational as Crumlin made it to the break in front.
The defender continued to excel after the turn and lead from the front as his side repelled The Drogs comeback assault. The visiting team became frustrated and started to force the issue somewhat. Danny McGuinness nearly compounded that frustration, but the subs volley looped over the keeper and the bar just minutes after McGreal curled an effort just wide of the post after Kennedy released him down the left flank.
After impressive McGreal shipped a knock it was clear Crumlin were not going to sail into the next round and that they would have to things the hard way. The winger hobbled on up top, however while they were lacking some firepower up front they were not lacking for fire extinguishers at the back.
Griffin was sensational, Rowe harried in midfield, Kennedy produced a brilliant block and Carrig a last ditch clearance as Crumlin battened down the hatches.
Drogheda eventually elected to attack the flanks and load the box and it threatened to pay dividends. O’Neil flashed a header over the bar and Meehan had to punch a number of centres clear.
However, just when it looked like a shock was on the cards a left wing raid injury time gave O’Neill a simple finish from two yards.
In a bid to prevent extra time Carrig burst forward from the back and after a one two with Graham Zambra in nosebleed territory dug out a cross that nearly found its way into the back of the net.
Crumlin held firm in the first period of extra time, but another injury left them trying to hold on with ten men. Tiredness eventually took its toll and Drogheda’s class eventually came to the fore.
The side,who celebrated derby delight thanks to a 4-1 win over Dundalk on Friday, finally stole ahead on 108 minutes thanks to Daire Doyle, before Carrig turned a cross into his own net to put a somewhat unfair gloss on the scoreboard.