Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk missed an opportunity to go six points clear at the top of the Premier Division as they were beaten 2-1 by a spirited Shamrock Rovers side at Oriel Park on Tuesday night.
The Hoops took an early lead thanks to a Roberto Lopes header before Dundalk equalised, rather fortuitously, through Michael Duffy’s deflected effort.
There was late drama, however, as Rovers took all three points in the fourth minute of injury time after Dylan Watts expertly dispatched a penalty.
The Lilywhites were, as expected, back at full strength after making seven changes for their FAI Cup win over Finn Harps just four days previously.
Rovers, meanwhile, made three changes from their defeat to Bohemians in their last league outing with Lee Grace, Greg Bolger and Brandon Miele all coming in.
Only two minutes had elapsed when Rovers took a surprise lead. Brian Gartland needlessly fouled Ronan Finn in a dangerous area.
Watts, who was a summer transfer target for Dundalk, floated the resulting free-kick into the box and it was headed home by defender Lopes.
A workmanlike Rovers side made life extremely difficult for the hosts from that point on, with clear-cut chances few and far between, although Dundalk did gradually grow into the match.
Such was Rovers' understandable resistance, it took Dundalk over half an hour to create their first chance of note.
Sean Gannon did excellently to get away from Lee Grace on the right before his pull-back was blazed over the bar by Robbie Benson as the Oriel Park faithful’s frustrations mounted.
Dundalk continued to press but struggled to find a way through the Shamrock Rovers rear-guard, although Patrick Hoban’s audacious overhead kick from the edge of the box almost found its way to Dane Massey, but Alan Mannus gathered comfortably with the hosts now feeding off scraps at this point.
The last action of what was a stop-start, largely uneventful opening 45 minutes saw Michael Duffy’s free-kick from the right find its way to Brian Gartland, but the ball could only cannon off the Dundalk defender as referee Robert Harvey, who struggled to control the match in truth, blew for half-time.
The second half started much like the first and Rovers had the first chance when Miele dragged an effort wide from the edge of the area that had Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers at full stretch.
In a game that lacked much creativity, one got the impression that Dundalk would need a real stroke of luck to find that elusive equaliser and that’s exactly what they got nine minutes after the restart.
Duffy somehow found the space to unleash a shot that took a wicked deflection off a Shamrock Rovers defender before looping over the helpless Mannus and into the net as Oriel erupted.
There was drama late on as Rovers stole the points at the death after Finn was adjudged to have been fouled by Gannon.
Watts took responsibility and dispatched the spot kick to give Rovers a valuable win as Dundalk suffered their first league defeat since Waterford beat them back in May.
Sean Hoare was given his marching orders for dissent after the full-time whistle in what were ugly scenes at Oriel Park, and referee Harvey went off to a chorus of jeers from the Dundalk supporters.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (John Mountney 90+1); Jamie McGrath (Ronan Murray 77), Patrick McEleney (Dylan Connolly 56), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis, Georgie Kelly.
Booked: Patrick Hoban (26), Jamie McGrath (32), Chris Shields (79), Brian Gartland (81).
Sent off: Sean Hoare.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Ethan Boyle, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Sean Kavanagh; Greg Bolger, Ronan Finn; Joel Coustrain (Brandon Kavanagh 80), Dylan Watts, Brandon Miele (Aaron Greene 71); Daniel Carr (Gary Shaw 80).
Subs not used: Gavin Bazunu (gk), Joey O’Brien, Sam Bone, Aaron Bolger.
Booked: Greg Bolger (37), Ronan Finn (52), Ethan Boyle (81), Gary Shaw (90).
Referee: Robert Harvey.
Attendance: 2,657 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Roberto Lopes (Shamrock Rovers).