All to play for as Drogheda hold Malmo to a draw

Europa League First Qualifying Round, First leg: Drogheda United 0 Malmo 0

Mick Cooke had said beforehand that he would settle for taking this tie back to Malmo where a young side that includes full and under-21 internationals might find the pressure of their own fans' expectation difficult to cope with.

Well, his side managed that much last night after holding their opponents to a scoreless draw in a game they dominated for spells but which swung fairly dramatically one way and then the other over the course of the 90 minetes.

Quite how the Irish side will improve on that next Thursday is not entirely clear but their opponents did at least suggest last night that they could be unsettled in the event that Drogheda hit their stride.

“We didn’t get a goal to bring away with us so obviously they’ll be the favourites to go through but I thought the lads did really well overall and showed tremendous courage from the point when we were reduced to 10 men. Hopefully now we can go over there and grab an away goal.”


They'll have to do it without midfielder Ryan Brennan, however, as the 21-year-old was sent off for a couple of bookings, the first of them for dissent, something Cooke refused to defend in any way afterwards.

Given how unpromisingly the night had started, however, it was still a very good night's work from Cooke's point of view. United had been comprehensively outplayed over the opening quarter, even half an hour and looked at times as though they would be fortunate to avoid a hefty defeat. Their visitors looked quicker and technically better over the course of the opening exchanges and easily played through and around the Irish side.

Succession of mistakes
Drogheda, though, made life easy for them with a succession of mistakes compounding the pressure they found themselves until they seemed to stop trying to retain the ball and settled instead for quickly surrendering possession almost every time they got it by playing long, first time balls far beyond the Malmo back four which Gary O'Neill and Peter Hynes were somehow supposed to chase down. In reality they were little more than lost causes.

Swedish international Jiloan Hamad and South Africa’s Tokeolo Rantie looked particularly threatening but some of Drogheda’s defending at that stage had a hint of desperation about it.

Still, there a few bright moments that suggested they were capable of better, most of which involved makeshift left back Gavin Brennan in one way or another. The 25 year-old's composure on or around the ball stood out early on but gradually the tide began to turn as his team-mates grew in confidence too and United finally began to play their way into things.

Brennan had United's first real attempt on goal, a shot from a tight angle that flew straight at Johan Dahlin, but his brother Ryan really should have set up Paul O'Conor for an opener towards the end of the half. The locals won possession with an interception in midfield and moved the ball well in from the left towards the edge of the area before the younger Brennan ultimately fluffed what should have been a straightforward final pass to the former UCD midfielder who was free, in a lot of space, down the right hand side of the box.

Terrific through ball
David Cassidy had the Swedish side's defence scrambling about a few minutes later after Peter Hynes had sent him clear with a terrific through ball and the former Shelbourne player then reckoned he should have had a penalty but Magnus Eriksson got the benefit of the doubt.

Mick Cooke's men continued to gain momentum after the break and had their best chance of the game 10 minutes into the second period when holding midfielder Alan Byrne got forward to head Cassidy's angled free from the left fractionally over.

Ryan Brennan, though, picked up a yellow card for arguing that the Swede who conceded the free should have been sent off and that came back to haunt him 20 minutes when he tugged Rantie as the striker was about to race clear and the referee promptly booked him again. The last 15 minutes then resembled the first 15 although this time Malmo carved out several clearcut chances at least one of which they probably should have scored. Gabriel Save, though, did well more than once and they had occasional but of good fortune as they clambered their way through the closing stages.

Without Brennan or a lead to defend in Sweden next week they'll likely need more luck to progress but they are at least still very much in hunt with their better spells here suggesting they might yet be capable of springing a surprise.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Sava; Daly, McNally, Prendergast, G Brennan; Byrne; O'Conor, R Brennan, Cassidy; O'Neill (O'Brien, 67 mins), Hynes (Gannon, 79 mins).
MALMO: Dahlin; Albornoz, Jansson, Johansson, Ricardinho; Hamad, Friberg (Petrovic, 84 mins), Halsti, Forsberg (Thern, 55 mins); Eriksson, Rantie.
Referee: E Aleckovic (Bos-Herzegovina)

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times