Ross Mann sprung from the bench to snatch an injury-time equaliser which kept Limerick’s unbeaten start and 14-point lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League First Division intact for the midseason break, after Drogheda United looked to have netted a last-minute winner at the Markets Field on Saturday evening.
Drogheda had only gone in front for the first time in the final moments of the 90, but they could have been ahead much earlier had it not been for young goalkeeper Tommy Holland who denied Mark Griffin, Aaron Ashe and Niall Cooney in a frantic 60-second spell inside ten minutes.
Lee-J Lynch and Seán Russell had threatened straight after that, but it would be the second half before Limerick went close again as Shaun Kelly’s left-footed strike on the hour-mark was pushed behind by Stephen McGuinness. From Stephen Kenny’s resulting corner the ball was bundled in from close range off a Drogheda player.
Ashe should have replied immediately but he blazed over. Drogheda, though, were level with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining when Sam O’Connor’s header was spilled into the net by the unfortunate Holland.
Chris Mulhall’s header dropped just wide as Limerick attacked from the restart, and the former UCD player beat McGuinness to the ball with six minutes remaining but from a tight angle his goal-bound shot was cleared off the line.
With the Shannonsiders pushing for a winner, Drogheda posed a threat on the counter and they went ahead on 89 minutes when Ashe’s shot from the right angle of the box found the far bottom corner off the upright.
Immediately, manager Martin Russell called on Mann and it was the 20-year-old that proved the saviour as his outstretched foot directed the ball to the net deep in injury-time. Limerick quickly got the game restarted and they almost won it right at the death but Drogheda survived Shane Tracy’s dangerous corner delivery as the hosts’ record-chasing dream ended.
Russell had selected the same lineup and bench as for the 4-3 win over Shelbourne in Dublin six days earlier, with Holland continuing in goals and Robbie Williams as captain. Again, club skipper Shane Duggan, Freddy Hall, Aaron Greene, Garbhán Coughlan and Séamus Sharkey missed out through injury.
And it was Drogheda that went close first. On seven minutes, the visitors broke through the defence and Griffin’s shot was pushed away by Holland who reacted brilliantly to deny Ashe’s follow-up with his foot at the near post.
From the resulting corner, the ball was flicked up for Cooney whose strike was superbly pushed over by the 18-year-old stopper. Limerick then broke and after putting pressure on the backline, the ball came to Lynch whose low drive was well held by McGuinness.
In a lively three-minute period, Limerick threatened again when Kenny showed good feet and his delivery found Russell whose shot on the turn from ten-yards went narrowly over. On 19 minutes, Kenny got into a good position in the box after controlling Williams’ cross-field pass but his shot was pushed away, before Griffin struck over.
Between then and the break, there was little in the way of goalmouth action. Early in the second half, Griffin had a sight of goal but once again he shot off target. Then Paul O’Conor slipped in Kenny on the right and his cross from the by-line was headed over by Mulhall.
On 54 minutes, Kenny again swung in a cross that was directed goalwards by John O’Flynn but McGuinness comfortably saved on the line. Then Russell’s left-wing cross was knocked down by Kenny for O’Conor in the box but his shot rose high and wide.
On the hour, Kelly’s good forward run got him into a good position and after O’Flynn’s layoff he ran onto the ball and fired a fine left-footed shot which was pushed behind by McGuinness. From Kenny’s corner to the back post, the ball was bundled into the net among a number of bodies.
From the kick-off, Drogheda almost responded when Ashe found himself through but he shot over. On 71 minutes, Kenny’s low strike was well held by the Drogheda ‘keeper as the visitors remained well in the game. And they were level with a quarter-of-an-hour left as O’Connor’s header was spilled into the net by Holland.
Limerick went on the attack straight away and Mulhall saw a header go inches wide, before his persistence led to a mistake in the visiting defence as McGuinness missed the ball but while he hit the target from a tight angle a Drogheda player got back to clear off the line.
Drogheda then hit the front on 89 minutes when Ashe struck a fine shot to the bottom corner, which led to Mann being called upon. And the local forward rescued a point two minutes into injury-time when he found the net, the home side forced to settle for the draw despite putting heavy pressure on their opponents’ goal in the closing seconds.
Limerick: Tommy Holland, Shaun Kelly (Ross Mann 89), Paudie O’Connor, Robbie Williams ©, Shane Tracy, Paul O’Conor, Lee-J Lynch, Stephen Kenny, Chris Mulhall, Seán Russell, John O’Flynn. Goals: Own-Goal (60), R Mann (90+2). Booked: P O’Connor (67), L Lynch (74). Unused Subs: Freddy Hall (GK), Tony Whitehead, Shane Costelloe, Seán McSweeney, Clyde O’Connell, Killian Brouder.
Drogheda United: Stephen McGuinness, Lloyd Buckley, Niall Cooney, Luke Gallagher, Stephen Dunne, Aaron Ashe, Seán Brennan (Ken Costello 62), Seán Thornton ©, Derek Doyle, Mark Griffin (Eoin Kirwan 79), Sam O’Connor (Liam Donnelly 88). Goals: S O’Connor (75), A Ashe (89). Booked: S Thornton (72). Unused Subs: Patrick Dunican (GK), Jamie McGlynn, Joe Jackson.
Referee: Adriano Reale (Dublin). Attendance: 1,181 (Official).
Report Date: Saturday 4 June 2016
Images thanks to Conor Wyse Photography.