Gartland finds silver lining in Tallinn

 

CHAMPIONS LEAGUE - Levadia 0 Drogheda Utd 1 (agg 1-3):HAVING ENDURED a week of torment, no-one could begrudge Graham Gartland his match-winning heroics here at the Kadrioru Stadion as Drogheda booked a second round meeting with Dinamo Kiev next week.

Not only did his mistake gift Levadia their away goal in the first leg at Dalymount Park last week, central defender Gartland added to his anguish as he then conceded a penalty to give Cork City victory in a league game at United Park last Sunday.

Undoubtedly hurting inside, the 25-year-old certainly didn't hide as he capped a superb defensive display with the only goal of the night to ease Paul Doolin's side through.

"It's gone from one of the worst weeks of my career in football to this high," said the Tallaght native, impervious to a cut on his chin which required three stitches.

"I was at rock bottom for a while, especially after Cork. I came over here with my head in my hands and I didn't come out of the hotel room for two days.

"I just said right, go back to defending the way I used to when I was younger - just take no chances, head things, clear things and deal with things after that.

"Yes, it's been a tough week. To pop up with the goal here is a bit ironic. But, that's football."

Joyous though he may have been with scoring, the goal, when it came two minutes into the second half, was far from a thing of beauty. Drogheda's fifth corner of the game was delivered by Paul Keegan and, amidst the mayhem in the box, Gartland got a touch to the ball before sliding in to force it over the line from a yard out.

Drogheda might have doubled their lead with two excellent chance shortly afterwards, midfielder Adam Hughes first shooting wide from Eamon Zayed's lay-off.

Zayed then slalomed past a couple of defenders to bring a good save from Martin Kaalma with a 20-yard drive.

Now needing to score twice just to keep the tie alive, Levadia enjoyed their best spell of what was a frustrating night for them.

Andrei Kalimullin's glancing header from Konstantin Nahk's free-kick shaved the outside of a post before their hopes all but ended on 65 minutes when Vadim Petrenko, booked in the first half for a foul on Ollie Cahill, was sent off for dissent.

Zayed should have added to Drogheda's winning margin, but was profligate in front of goal. Richie Baker's delightful ball over the top put Zayed in on goal 15 minutes from time, but his powerful shot was brilliantly saved by Kaalma with his feet.

Kaalma saved once again from Zayed two minutes later, even if his flick lacked any power. But the big striker was guilty of an astonishing miss on 84 minutes.

Again clean through from Baker's pass, Zayed rounded Kaalma, only to stumble on the ball and slice his shot wide.

Having scarcely troubled Jamie Ewings throughout, Levadia left it until the fourth minute of stoppage time to bring a stunning save from the Drogheda keeper who tipped away one-handed from Taijo Teneiste's long-range shot.

"To win both legs was great," said delighted manager, Paul Doolin. "When we got the report on them I felt it was going to be a tight enough tie. I didn't think it would be an easy game to win but I felt we were in with a shout."

Dinamo Kiev travel to Dalymount Park for the first leg of the second qualifying round tie on Tuesday night with the return in Ukraine on Wednesday of the following week.

LEVADIA TALLINN:Kaalma; Sisov (Malov 70), Kalimullin, Lemsalu, Teneiste; S Puri (Marmor 82), Petrenko, Nahk, Leitan (Zelinski 61); Andreev, Kink.

DROGHEDA UNITED:Ewings; Byrne, Maher, Gartland, Kendrick; Baker, Hughes, Keegan, Cahill, Kuduzovic (Ristila 94); Zayed (O'Brien, 88).

Referee:Bosko Jovanovich (Serbia).