Drogheda United were made to battle hard to earn a scoreless draw against Swedish side Malmo in their Europa League first leg, with Ryan Brennan sent off in the second-half.
It was the nominal home side who made the first clear-cut chance in the seventh minute when, following an enterprising run from Ryan Brennan, a first time low cross from his brother Gavin across the face of the Malmo goal almost caught visiting keeper Johan Dahlin out.
The Swedes almost opened the scoring in the 12th minute when Emil Forsberg was put through following a neat through ball from fellow Malmo midfielder Eric Friberg, but Alan McNally got back to make a well-timed saving tackle. Forsberg was again at the heart of the Swedes’ attack less than 60 seconds later, when his effort from nearly 30 yards out almost deceived Drogs’ keeper Gabriel Sava.
Shortly after the half hour mark, Malmo fashioned a half chance when Markus Halsti, their Finnish international defender, found the ball at his feet just outside the Drogs’ area, but his hasty shot ballooned well over the bar.
The Louth men were certainly holding their own, however, and responded in kind when Paul O’Conor’s intelligent through ball almost put Peter Hynes through, but Dahlin was out quickly to save.
Drogheda were not being overawed by their opponents and their best chance came in the 37th minute; a quick kick out from Dahlin hit off one of his own defenders and David Cassidy almost capitalised, bringing the bouncing ball under control and attempting to lob Dahlin, only to see it cleared almost off the line by Erik Johansson.
Drogheda were growing in confidence and two minutes before half time, a surging run down their right and an early cross from Michael Daly saw Gavin Brennan put a decent chance just over the Malmo crossbar.
Drogheda picked up the initiative again early in the second half and a deep free kick Paul O’Conor from the left in the 54th minute saw Alan Byrne head firmly just over and onto the roof of the visitors’ net.
Drogheda looked to be finishing the game on top and a great run down the left and cross from Gavin Brennan was the catalyst for two successive corners which caused some frantic last ditch defending from the Scandinavians.
However, Mick Cooke’s men suffered a major blow in the 74th minute when Ryan Brennan was given a second yellow card for a late challenge on Rantie. It followed an earlier booking for dissent and the 10 men of Drogheda were immediately on the back foot, with both Halsti and striker Magnus Eriksson drawing decent saves from Sava. Mick Cooke's enforced reshuffle saw the industrious forward Peter Hynes come off for defender Brian Gannon.
The last 10 minutes saw Drogheda naturally retreat further and further back towards their own penalty area. Sava again was the hero, getting down to save with his knees in the 86th minute when Rantie was clean through and seemed odds-on favourite to bulge the Drogheda net.
Drogheda now know a score draw will be enough for them to progress when they travel to Sweden for the second leg on Thursday, July 11.