Robbie Benson’s sublime volley seals top of the table clash and puts Dundalk within reach of Shamrock Rovers
The ‘Fortress Oriel’ banner, unfurled by Dundalk fans before kick-off, can be stored away for future use as the club’s impressive home record, and their good run at home to champions Shamrock Rovers, remains in place.
nd if there were questions about Rovers’ potential to easily stroll on towards the retention of another title, and also about Dundalk’s ability to challenge this season, a very strong display by the Louth club and a brilliant team goal answered those posers. Dundalk are now only five points behind Rovers with a game in hand with this 1-0 win.
Tight games like this take moments of ingenuity to win them, and a tense affair in front of 3,409 paying punters was heading towards a 0-0 draw when Robbie Benson settled it ten minutes from time – a neat volley from close range to finish off a well-struck cross by defender Lewis Macari, with more woe for the Hoops when captain – and ex-Dundalk player – Ronan Finn was sent off for a clumsy foul on Darragh Leahy – his second bookable offence.
Clear-cut chances were hard to find as rival centre halves Lee Grace and Mark Connolly were imposing figures, snuffing out any threats in advance in a game where both keepers had a relatively quiet night, before Benson’s magic touch. But while Rovers, with two defeats in three games, now know for sure they face a challenge, Dundalk work out how much higher they can climb, ahead of games against bottom-half sides Shelbourne and UCD in the coming weeks.
Yet while Dundalk were holding their own, especially in a tense midfield battle, they found it hard to carve out chances from play and relied heavily on set pieces. They had the first chance of the game, when a free kick by Steven Bradley on six minutes was met with a header by Pat Hoban, but his effort lacked conviction and direction. A repeat occurred on 20 minutes with a Mark Connolly header from Bradley’s set piece that did not trouble Alan Mannus.
Dundalk have a tight defensive unit, back to back clean sheets before this game, and Rovers knew it would take guile to open them up. They did that for the first time in the 14th minute with a swift counter attack seeing striker Rory Gaffney power his way down the right wing and he did well to get in a cross for Danny Mandroiu, but the former U-21 cap was unable to connect.
The away side came up with their best work of the first half on 38 minutes. The pace and skill of Mandroiu allowing him to get the better of Macari, Mandroiu bounded towards goal but standing in his way was the immense presence of defender Connolly, whose tackle was effective and clean.
With clearcut chances hard to come by, tensions emerged. Rovers annoyed that a tackle on Mandroiu by Bradley went unpunished while there was a minor scuffle just before half time when Greg Sloggett fell into the advertising hoarding after a push by Sean Hoare.
Dundalk presented champion boxer and local hero Amy Broadhurst to the crowd at half time, with Rovers fans wondering if their team also had the punch needed for title tilt within them. As it happened, Rovers had a bright start to the second half, clever play by Mandroiu setting up Gaffney for a shot but he fired into the side netting as they still had not enough to force a save from Nathan Shepperd, Rovers lacking conviction in attack.
Paul Doyle was key in a good spell for Dundalk, the ex-UCD man with three attempts to score. Sadly, all three were off target and Mannus, like Shepperd, remained untested.
But as the draw loomed, Macari did his work down the right, Benson was left unmarked and his finish was sublime. Rovers with no response are now asked to regroup for Friday’s derby battle with Bohemians.
DUNDALK – Shepperd; Macari, Connolly, Boyle, Leahy; Sloggett; Bradley (Adams 85), Doyle (Bone 76), Benson, Kelly; Hoban (Martin 85).
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Mannus; Hoare, Lopes, Grace; Finn, O’Neill, Watts (McCann 64), Towell, Kavanagh; Mandroiu; Gaffney (Greene 81).
REF – N Doyle