Drogheda United bow out of Europa League with their heads held high
Manager Mick Cooke proud of his side's effort in Sweden
Declan O’Brien: went close to scoring for Drogheda United last night at Swedbank Stadium, Sweden. Photograph: Inpho
Malmo 2 Drogheda 0 (Malno win 2-0 on agg): For all of their bravery, Drogheda United bowed out of the Europa League last night following a 2-0 defeat to Malmo at the Swedbank Stadium.
“I think we gave it our best shot. We threw everybody forward from the 85th minute, but to go out on a scoreline of 2-0 is no disgrace,” said Cooke after the game. “Malmo are a massive club and they were under great pressure to win, so to go to the 45th minute with the better chances, I felt confident the longer it went on.
“I’m incredibly proud and you want these nights more often, but we either have to win the FAI Cup or improve our league position. But the players certainly raised the standards for themselves as individuals and collectively as a team of what they can do.”
In Sweden, there is a level of expectancy when it comes to football and Malmo’s manager Rikard Norling was reminded of that in the build-up to this game – to the extent that rumours circulated of a falling out with board members.
While they sit second in the Allsvenskan, being dumped out of Europe by a team they perceive to be made up of part-time players would have been unacceptable.
Norling responded to the pressure by insisting that his team would play a more attacking style and, to an extent, they did but it was far from the dominant display that was expected of the hosts.
If the supporters were nervous before the game, they were truly ticked off at that stage as their singing reached new decibels.
It wasn’t that Malmo were playing poorly, they just were not carving Drogheda open with ease. Time and again, they found their rhythm disrupted by a last-ditch block or a tackle from a player they had not seen coming.
When they did string a few passes together, it was clear that they were technically superior to their visitors and there was a feeling that, if they wanted to, they could flick a switch and burn past them at any moment.
Yet, the chances on goal were few as goalkeeper Gabriel Sava hardly had a save to make. The Romanian did get down to a shot from Magnus Eriksson on 18 minutes, but it was lacking the necessary venom.
As they zipped the ball across the pitch, Malmo kept Drogheda inside their own half for large periods but still required a set-piece to record their best chance when Pontus Jansson headed over when meeting a corner kick.
Up the other end of the pitch, Drogheda huffed and puffed whenever they could. And they almost found a way through when Declan O’Brien ran onto a pass from Cassidy before it was cut out.
It looked as though Cooke’s men would reach the interval scoreless, but a lapse in concentration hit them just before the break. Tokelo Rantie slid a pass into Forsberg and the winger neatly slotted past Sava.
Despite that setback, Drogheda knew that they were still one goal away from taking control of the tie due to the away-goal rule and Gary O’Neill tried his luck with a shot from 20 yards out after some good work.
Malmo, though, wanted to kill the game off and they pressed for that second goal. Rantie should have provided it on 51 minutes when played through by Eriksson, but he fired wide of the goal.
As the substitutions rolled on, both teams tried to keep their cool as their fitness levels began to be tested. Drogheda were working hard to maintain a solid shape, while Malmo simply wanted to inject some creativity to their play.
However, the home team got their second goal deep into injury-time when Kroon twisted his way past Michael Daly before firing in. That wrapped up the win and ended Drogheda’s European adventure.