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A characteristically clinical display from Danny North saw Sligo Rovers put lowly Dundalk to the sword at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Dundalk manager Sean McCaffrey could once again call upon the services of Michael Rafter and Stephen McDonnell having seen the pair serve their suspensions against UCD last week, while his Sligo counterpart Ian Baraclough had to do without the suspended duo of Jason McGuinness and Alan Keane, with John Dillon deputising in McGuiness’ absence.
Dundalk seized the initiative on 36 through Michael Rafter’s stunning header, but the Bit o’Red resolved to level matters just seven minutes later with North’s poacher’s finish. The comeback was completed on 49 as the diminutive Englishman struck again to preserve Sligo’s healthy lead at the summit.
Despite the result, it was Dundalk who started the brightest. Unfazed by the illustrious opposition, in-form striker Mark Griffin raced on to a dinked through ball, but Sligo custodian Gary Rogers reacted well to race off his line and thwart his opponent.
An audacious lob effort from the Dundalk native was clutched gratefully into Rogers’ chest on 6, before Griffin sent one of his now trademark curling free-kicks just inches wide of the keeper’s top right hand corner two minutes later.
The visitors had to wait until the 19th minute for their first tilt at goal, but Ross Gaynor’s thunderous 30-yarder skimmed agonisingly wide of Peter Cherrie’s upright.
By now the game had swung decidedly in the visitors’ favour, and Dundalk were fortunate to see the ball spin wide on 22 after Gavin Peers arrived at the back post a second too late to convert Gaynor’s free-kick.
The game resumed its tit for tat nature until the Lilywhites struck a seemingly momentous blow on 36. Some fine wing play from captain Chris Shields saw him whip a vicious left wing delivery to the head of Rafter, who deftly evaded the two centre-backs to fire a precision header past the hapless Rogers.
Alas, it was not to be, and as the rain began to sheet down, Dundalk’s fortunes took a turn for the worse on 43. A mazy run down the left wing from Gaynor culminated in a wicked delivery which flashed just beyond the despairing dive of Cherrie to find the unmarked North, leaving the prolific striker with the simplest of tasks to stroke home the equaliser.
Sligo began the second half in much the same fashion as they ended the first, and the half’s initial effort after three minutes from North was to prove an omen for things to come.
A 49th minute corner brought about a dangerous delivery from Joseph Ndo, which precipitated an uncharacteristically poor attempted punch from Cherrie that saw the ball limp to the feet of North, and the Sligo front man was only too happy to slide the ball nonchalantly to the net for his second.
Try as they might, Dundalk just could not break out of their own half from there on in, and it was the Westerners who registered the next effort of note- Raffaele Cretaro’s 30-yard rasper clearing the bar by inches on 56.
Having seen a pile driver from John Dillon diverted behind for a corner on 65, the Scottish stalwart once again flapped unconvincingly at the delivery before seeing the ball hacked away by his defence.
As constant substitutions began to adversely affect the flow of what had previously been an entertaining game, Cherrie spied an opportunity for redemption in injury time as he raced up the field for a corner, but a poor delivery put paid to Dundalk’s ambitions as their winless streak against Sligo at the border venue continues.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Derek Foran, Luke Danville (Peter Thomas 13), Liam Burns, Eoghan Osborne; John Mountney, Chris Shields ©, Paul Walsh, Stephen McDonnell (Chris Reilly 66); Michael Rafter (Gary Shanahan 80), Mark Griffin.
Subs not used: Finian Farrelly, Nathan Murphy, Dan Cunningham, Gerard McSorley.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Romauld Boco, Gavin Peers, Danny Ventre ©, Iarfhlaith Davoren (Mark Quigley 82); Raffaele Cretaro, Joseph Ndo, David Cawley, John Dillon (Millien 70), Ross Gaynor; Danny North.
Subs not used: Adam Murphy, Martin Owens, Jake Dykes, Lee Lynch, Liam Martin.
Booked: North, Davoren.
Referee: Dave McKeon.
Man of the Match: Danny North (Sligo Rovers).