SETANTA SPORTS CUP (FIRST ROUND, FIRST LEG)
DROGHEDA UNITED 3 PORTADOWN 2
PORTADOWN battled back from a two-goal deficit at Drogheda United to keep alive hopes of progress next week in the Setanta Sports Cup.
United raced clear by 2-0 inside the opening stages against a Portadown side with young players in key positions. Jamie McArdle was drafted in between the posts as a late replacement for the injured David Miskelly, with Ciaran Rooney handed a first taste of senior action by lining out in midfield.
Both players proved impressive and, on a night of firsts, Aaron Burns opened his account for the Ports by reducing the gap before Kevin Braniff played the captain’s role with a spectacular equaliser.
Drogheda regained the lead after the break but Portadown can take heart from two away goals and a spirited display - in front of over 150 travelling fans - ahead of Monday’s second-leg clash at Shamrock Park.
Stephen Quigley’s mishit dropped invitingly for Ryan Brennan to hand Drogheda a lead on eight minutes.
The hosts stepped up the pressure and came close to a second from Eric Foley’s header before Gavin Brennan intercepted an attempted crossfield pass, raced forward and fed Gary O’Neill on the edge of the box. O’Neill set up Paul O’Conor with a short pass which the midfielder drilled beyond McArdle.
Portadown’s best spell of the match arrived across the remainder of the first half.
Gary Twigg - scorer at one point across seven successive appearances at the Drogheda venue - raced on to Darren Murray’s sliderule pass down the right-hand channel but could only steer his shot wide of the far post. Twigg then had a close-range effort blocked by Michael Schlingerman.
The Ports kicked off the fightback when Burns stooped forward to power home a header after Murray’s deep throw-in created problems for the Drogheda backline.
Murray then had two attempts to convert a Braniff delivery following strong play by Burns and Twigg.
The visitors continued to press forward and Drogheda had Alan Byrne to thank for clearances inside the box following attacking play from Braniff and Ross Redman.
Braniff then stepped forward and added to his catalogue of impressive strikes in the competition by curling a long-range shot into the top corner of the net from around the 25-yard mark.
Drogheda regrouped and put Portadown on the backfoot in the initial stages of the second half.
The final goal of the first-leg meeting arrived on 60 minutes when another misplaced pass was collected by Drogheda and a swift counter-attack between the Brennan brothers allowed Gavin to convert Ryan’s pass from an unmarked position.
McArdle produced a smart stop to push out Shane Grimes’ angled drive but Portadown enjoyed a strong finish and Drogheda had the latter to thank for a clearance off the line from Garry Breen’s header.
Drogheda almost added a fourth late on when two substitutes combined, however, Declan O’Brien’s attempt from Graham Rusk’s pass dropped past the target to keep Portadown in contention for Monday’s return.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Michael Schlingerman, Stephen Quigley, Derek Prendergast, Paul O’Conor, Cathal Bradley, Ryan Brennan, Gary O’Neill, Gavin Brennan, Shane Grimes, Eric Foley, Alan Byrne. Subs: Gabriel Sava, Philip Hand, David Cassidy, Declan O’Brien (on for Gary O’Neill, 70 mins), Graham Rusk (on for Cathal Brady, 65 mins), Jason Marks, Peter Hynes.
PORTADOWN: Jamie McArdle, Andrew Burns, Chris Ramsey, Garry Breen, Ross Redman, Sean Mackle, Ciaran Rooney, Aaron Burns, Darren Murray, Gary Twigg, Kevin Braniff. Subs: Okunaiya Orman, Tim Mouncey (on for Sean Mackle, 65 mins), Neil McCafferty (on for Ciaran Rooney, 65 mins), Richard Lecky, Mark Patton, Ryan Burns, Joe McNeill.
Referee: Tim Marshall (Irvinestown).