Town survive late pressure to overcome Drogheda in five-goal thriller (U-17's)


A fantastic first-half performance from James Dermody's Longford Town under-17 side set the foundations for a wonderful 3-2 win over Drogheda United on Sunday afternoon. Taking the lead after just four minutes, you could have been forgiven for thinking "De Town" were in for an easy ride after Dylan Steward fired home from close range after an excellent through ball. However, Drogheda United were showing some early threat of their own, particularly down the left-hand-side.

With the senior side losing 1-0 to Waterford FC at the same venue last night thanks to an error from 'keeper Paul Skinner, Rhys Murphy Monghan would have been eager not to recreate any such incident here. However, just minutes after Town's opener the young goalkeeper gave the ball away needlessly but thankfully for the hosts the resulting long range strike by Drogheda United was blocked.

Patrick O'Sullivan was in for a big performance on Sunday and he showed early glimpses of what was to follow when he beat a couple of "Drogs" with a jinking run in front of the main stand. O'Sullivan's big moment was soon to come but not before United registered some first big chances of note. Firstly, a good passing move out from the back resulted in a long-range effort sneaking wide of Murphy Monaghan's post, while seconds later a header from roughly eight-yards out went high over the Longford cross-bar.

At the other end, Steward was causing mayhem for both the Drogheda defenders and their last line of defence, the goalkeeper, who on several occasions was forced to find touch due to the relentless pressing of Steward. Dermody's side were closing down the opposition at every available opportunity now and it told as the visitors made unforced error after unforced error. Their keeper was called into action on eighteen-minutes when, who else other than Steward, found himself on the end of a loose-ball but his low drive was saved and cleared way to safety.

Despite all of that, Drogheda United would equalise against the run of play as Aaron Kelly, son of former Town star Stephen Kelly, lost the ball far too easily out wide, allowing a Drogheda striker in to smash the ball into the top-left-hand corner.....A fine finish! 1-1 after just twenty-two-minutes played.

Almost immediately from the restart though, Longford would regain their lead as O'Sullivan took on a strike from all of thirty-yards. A massive deflection would undo the away sides shot-stopper, who had no chance. Despite the massive slice of luck, one must credit O'Sullivan for taking the shot on when the time and space became available to him.

Soon after and it would be three for "De Town" as a cross from the 'Section O' side of the ground found O'Sullivan in acres in the "Drogs" penalty area, with the Town number seven making no mistake sticking it through the helpless 'keepers legs.

Signs of carelessness in the Longford Town back-line were starting to appear, with captain Dragos Mamaliga giving his defenders a good old fashioned verbal volleying. However, the back-four clearly failed to heed such warnings as they conceded an utterly careless goal right on the stroke of half-time. Ciaran Barry attempted to dribble the ball out of his own eighteen-yard area only to lose it and rely on his team-mates and 'keeper Monaghan to dig him out of trouble. The end result was a corner to Drogheda United but with Longford Town totally switching off at the set-piece, the "Drogs" punished the hosts and went in at the break just one-goal behind in a game they were lucky to still be in. Only for the Drogheda United 'keeper, who denied the in-form duo of Steward and O'Sullivan on at least three separate occasions, the County Louth side could have been on the wrong end of a first-half hiding.

In an effort to put the pressure back on a resurgent Drogheda United at the start of the second-half, Town boss Dermody introduced Cian Cheevers and Jason Coughlan to the action, both attacking players. However, the mistakes at the back continued to follow as "De Town" put untold pressure on themselves with some careless passing.

The opening forty-five had been played at a hectic pace on a very warm day in the Midlands and perhaps that played a role in the pace of the game dropping dramatically in the second peroid. Joe Hagan fired off a decent long-range effort on fifty-one minutes, but Drogheda continued to come at Longford, who in all truth were making things much harder for themselves than needed to be.

Despite some strong tackles from both sides, this was a game played in good spirit. However, tempers would soon begin to rise when the officials, particularly the linesman on the stand side decided to make themselves the center of attention with some dreadful calls. Drogheda United felt incensed when said linesman flagged for a handball inside "De Town" penalty area, but rightfully so the referee told him to lower his flag as play continued....This was clearly a case of ball to hand. Next was the turn of Town manager James Dermody to feel aggrieved as his star man, Dylan Steward went down inside the area due to a tackle from behind. However, in all credit to the Drogheda defender he did appear to win the ball fairly, despite the clear pain caused to Steward.

Both sides were making careless errors as the game grew sloppy. With just over twenty-minutes to play, Drogheda saw a great counter-attack opportunity break down due to a needless offside with their wide-man looking across the line when he was flagged. Longford were in danger of cracking under a surge of "Drogs" pressure, with head tennis inside the hosts area making for some nervous home support.

Drogheda would go close with a headed effort of their own just seconds after, as a fre-kick in front of the main stand was glanced just wide of Murphy Monaghan's far post (footage below).

Aaron Kelly had been tore apart in wide positions during the first-half but "De Town" number four made a goal saving interception with fifteen-minutes left on the clock to deny Drogheda an equaliser. Last ditch tackles were the now the oder of the day as Steward was denied a second for the hosts when he was hit hard with a good sliding tackle on the edge of the Drogheda penalty area.

James Finn replaced man of the match O'Sullivan as the clock slowly ticked down for Longford, as Drogheda rolled a final dice of their own from the subs bench. However, it was the hosts who really should have killed the game in injury-time as Mamaliga got on the end of a loose ball but fired over under pressure from the opposition 'keeper. Dermody appealed for a penalty as Mamaliga appeared to be taken out by the shot-stopper, but with his shot already sailing over it probably was the correct decision to award just a goal-kick.

Longford's lack of ruthlessness in the final third will have disappointed Dermody, as Gustavo Rodrigues final ball saw another golden opportunity passed up as "De Town" desperately attempted to put the game to bed (footage below).

However, Longford would live to fight another day as the full-time whistle soon sounded after a glut of extra-time. A big win for Longford Town's under-17's who face the Cavan/Monaghan partnership next.

After the game, Between the Stripes reporter Kieran Burke spoke to Town boss, James Dermody.

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