David McMillan played a pivotal role as Dundalk collected their first win of the 2021 SSE Airtricity League season with a hard-fought 2-0 victory over a resolute Drogheda United side in the Louth Derby at Oriel Park on Saturday evening.
The striker’s stunning header gave the Lilywhites a one-goal lead going into the break and just as Drogheda were building up a head of steam, McMillan turned provider for Han Jeongwoo to score his first goal for the club and write himself into the history books as the first South Korean to hit the net for the Lilywhites.
The result extends the Lilywhites unbeaten run over their Louth neighbours at Oriel Park to almost nine years but, more importantly, lifts the Lilywhites up the table with away games against Waterford and Longford Town on the horizon.
Dundalk sporting director Jim Magilton made four changes to the side that was pegged back in Derry four nights earlier. Wilfried Zahibo was handed his full debut for the club alongside Chris Shields and Patrick McEleney in the middle of the park.
With Patrick Hoban injured, McMillan – who scored at the Brandywell – was tasked with leading the line while Han Jeongwoo got the nod over Junior on the right and Peter Cherrie was restored to the goal in place of Alessio Abibi.
The Drogs, who arrived off the back of a late defeat against Shamrock Rovers, fielded some familiar faces with ex-Lilywhites Dane Massey and Ronan Murray in Tim Clancy’s starting XI while David Odumosu was named amongst the substitutes.
Murray had the first attempt of the evening, flashing a low half-volley wide after just 17 seconds, but the Boynesiders struggled to make any real impact on Cherrie’s goal during the remainder of the half. McMillan had a half-chance for the hosts five minutes later but he couldn’t divert Raivis Jurkovskis’ cross on target. The duo fared a lot better later in the half.
Dundalk looked bright and inventive in spells as they pressed for the opener and after meeting stiff resistance from the Drogs backline, they made the vital breakthrough in the 24th minute. Zahibo switched play to the left and McMillan did brilliantly to meet Jurkovskis’ delivery on this occasion and beat McCabe low down to his left with a flying header.
Michael Duffy had an opportunity to double the advantage on the half-hour when he latched on to Daniel Cleary’s raking pass but with the Drogheda United backline exposed, McCabe did well to save and keep just the minimum between the sides at the interval.
Zahibo was booked before the half-time whistle for a hefty tackle that left Killian Phillips on the floor and the Central African Republic international continued to have a say in things at the beginning of the second half, slipping Han Jeongwoo in on the inside right but the Korean’s deflected effort posed no danger in the end.
The visitors responded with their best spell of the match and Massey was unlucky not to pick out a claret and blue shirt with a fizzing delivery from the left. James Brown then tried his luck from the opposite side but his shot went well off target.
Darragh Leahy, Sean Murray and Greg Sloggett were introduced for Jurkovskis, McEleney and Zahibo respectively just short of the hour as Magilton freshened things up and Han Jeongwoo’s forceful dart almost released Murray through the middle but Brown produced a fantastic last-ditch tackle to stop him in his tracks.
The visitors continued to grow in stature and Andy Boyle was in the right place to deflect a Daniel O’Reilly shot over the top just as it looked to be heading for the top corner but Dundalk hit the knockout blow in the 71st minute when McMillan swept the ball across the six-yard box and Han arrived on cue to slot the ball home from close range.
Substitute Ryan O’Kane almost made McCabe pay for a poor kick out but Massey recovered to bail his goalkeeper out and Clancy’s men just wouldn’t lie down with Chris Lyons pulling one back in the final minute to set up a tense finish but Dundalk saw it out to bank a vitally important win.
DUNDALK FC: Peter Cherrie; Cameron Dummigan, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Raivis Jurkovskis (Darragh Leahy 59); Chris Shields (Ryan O’Kane 79), Wilfried Zahibo (Greg Sloggett 59); Han Jeongwoo, Patrick McEleney (Sean Murray 59), Michael Duffy; David McMillan (Junior 88). Subs not used: Alessio Abibi (GK), Sam Stanton, Val Adedokun, Jesus Perez.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Colin McCabe; James Brown, Daniel O’Reilly, Hugh Douglas (Jordan Adeyemo 76), Dane Massey; Gary Deegan, Killian Phillips, Darragh Markey (Mark Doyle 68), Ryan O’Shea; Chris Lyons, Ronan Murray (James Clarke 87).Subs not used: David Odumosu (GK), Jack Tuite, Mohammad Boudiaf, Brandon Bermingham, Charles Mutawe, Luke Heeney.
REFEREE: Adriano Reale.