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Patrick McEleney is the latest in a long line of Stephen Kenny prodigies and if tonight’s 3-0 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic is anything to go by then the Derryman has all the makings of the best yet.
The midfielder equalled, before surpassing, his 2016 goals total with two sublime finishes over a ruthless six minute spell after half-time to break in clinical fashion whatever resistance St. Pat’s had been offering.
This having played an integral part in Ciaran Kilduff’s 44th minute opener which changed the course of the game as the visitors had more than held their own up until that point.
Dundalk now head to Cork next Saturday seeking to settle a score following their humbling at the mercy of the Leesiders in the President’s Cup last month.
The win and clean sheet in tonight’s match ultimately legitimised Kenny’s decision to drop Gabriel Sava out of the starting XI for the first time this season. Gary Rogers, back from a calf injury, stepped in for Dundalk’s only change from Monday’s defeat to Derry.
Rogers had an easy night in truth, as did Dundalk’s defence in general, with St. Pats’ new-look side struggling to mount a prolonged attacking challenge.
Conor O’Malley, one of five changes, in goal for St. Pat’s was immediately tested by Michael Duffy, who ought to have scored from Robbie Benson’s incise through ball.
The visitors gave as good as they got early on and, playing with their adventurous 3-5-2 set-up, their closest opportunity came when Alex O’Hanlon’s floated delivery was met by Gavin Peers at the back post, only for Rogers to deflect the effort behind.
Chances continued to present themselves, mostly for the champions, with Sean Gannon stinging the hands of O’Malley before the ‘keeper again saved from McEleney’s wicked shot.
The breakthrough did arrive a minute before the interval through Kilduff, who tapped McEleney’s splendid flick from Duffy’s cross into the bottom corner.
And the Lilywhites soon added to their lead when McEleney sent the home support into raptures by delicately lofting the ball to the net on the back of an incredible run which exemplified his technical genius in a nutshell.
He was at it soon after when, after finding space in the area, he rounded the Dubliner’s rear-guard to stroke the ball into the bottom corner.
The remaining half-hour was dominated by Dundalk, although the visitors came closest to another with Christy Fagan and substitute Kurtis Byrne twice coming close at the death.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Séan Gannon, Brian Gartland, Paddy Barrett, Dane Massey; Conor Clifford (Chris Shields 69), Robbie Benson; John Mountney (Jamie McGrath 80), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; Ciaran Kilduff (David McMillan 76).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Niclas Vemmelund, Séan Hoare, Thomas Stewart.
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Conor O’Malley; Michael Barker, Rory Feely, Gavin Peers (Conan Byrne 57), Darren Dennehy, Ian Bermingham; Jonathan Lunney, Lee Desmond, Alex O’Hanlon; Josh O’Hanlon (Kurtis Byrne 57), Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Pat Jennings (gk), Patrick Cregg, Graham Kelly, Sam Verdon, Billy Dennehy.
Booked: Fagan (45).
Referee: Graham Kelly
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Patrick McEleney (Dundalk).