Colin O’Brien’s brilliant strike got the Boynesiders back into it after goals either side of half-time from Eamon Zayed and Gareth McGlynn for the visitors, and then O’Brien won the penalty from which David Freeman grabbed a well-deserved equaliser.
The Candystripes enjoyed a dream start as they made the breakthrough from their very first attack. Emmet Friars picked out the run of winger Stephen McLaughlin and he advanced unchallenged before sliding a pass into the feet of Zayed, who couldn’t miss from six yards.
Drogheda looked shaky in the early stages and Zayed could have doubled his and Derry’s tally on 11 minutes, but pulled his shot well wide from just inside the box.
Then Daniel Lafferty got free in the box and flicked a Ruairi Harkin corner goal-wards, only for a defender to boot the ball off the line.
The home side played some tidy football but didn’t threaten the opposition goal until the 23rd minute when Colin O’Brien exchanged passes with David Freeman before firing wide of Gerard Doherty’s right-hand post from 25 yards.
Derry responded with their best spell of the half as Zayed forced a good save from David Quirke, Lafferty headed over and then Zayed hit the crossbar.
However, Drogheda almost levelled in first-half stoppage time as Doherty saved Gareth Whelan’s powerful header from a corner and Brian Gannon’s follow-up from the rebound flew narrowly wide.
The hosts were quick out of the blocks in the second half as Dinny Corcoran was put through on goal by Freeman, only for Derry centre-half Shane McEleney to get back and make a vital tackle.
It was a key moment, as the Candystripes doubled their advantage in the 54th minute when McGlynn took the ball down 20 yards out and hooked a super shot to the top corner.
Incredibly, Drogheda were back on level terms within 11 minutes.
First, Colin O’Brien’s brilliant first-time shot from 20 yards gave Doherty no chance from just outside the box.
Then Derry centre-halves Patrick McEleney and Emmet Friars got into a tangle and Colin O’Brien nipped in between them, only to be brought down by Doherty in the box.
Freeman confidently stroked the resulting penalty to Doherty’s left to make it 2-2.
Shots from Mark O’Brien and Philip Hand were scrambled clear as Drogheda briefly threatened to conjure a winner, but the visitors recovered their composure.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Quirke; Gannon, McNally (Nolan 79), Whelan, Costigan; C O’Brien, Lester, M O’Brien, Hand, Corcoran, Freeman.
DERRY CITY: Doherty; Deery, S McEleney, Friars, Lafferty; McGlynn, Harkin (J McClean 90), Molloy, McLaughlin (M McCrudden 79; Zayed, P McEleney (D McDaid 86).
Referee: Padraigh Sutton (Clare).