Paddy Kavanagh’s 41st-minute strike as good as condemned ten-man Dundalk to the dreaded relegation playoff spot as Shelbourne recorded their first league win in over two months with a 1-0 victory at Oriel Park on Friday night, with the late sending off of Mark Griffin completing a miserable night for the Louth club.
Michael Rafter could have opened the scoring for the hosts in the early moments but he was denied on the line, while only a Liam Burns foul halted Shels’ Paul Byrne from a clean run on goal in a lively opening.
Dundalk should have been in front on 19 minutes when Griffin’s sweet delivery picked out Stephen Maher in the six-yard box but he blazed over a gaping goal.
Kevin Dawson almost capitalised on a defensive mix-up between Burns and Peter Cherrie before the half-hour, while at the other end Chris Bennion pushed away another Griffin free-kick.
The decisive moment would come within 60 seconds of that save as Paul Byrne and David Cassidy combined to find Kavanagh who struck clinically to Cherrie’s bottom right-hand corner from 20-yards.
Dundalk should have been level on 54 minutes when Shields hooked a Griffin free-kick goalwards but Stephen Hurley got back to clear off the line as Alan Mathews’ side narrowly escaped.
With Dundalk’s only real threat coming from set-pieces, Griffin tested Bennion again on 74 minutes and then Rafter’s shot was tipped wide, as the home side were unable to prevent themselves from falling to a fifth straight league defeat.
With three minutes remaining, a forgettable night for Dundalk was rounded off when Griffin received a straight red card following an aerial challenge with Brian Shortall, a dismissal which could rule the in-form striker out of their FAI Ford Cup semi-final against Saint Patrick’s Athletic in a fortnight.
Both teams went into the game in confident mood following their FAI Cup quarter-final wins seven days earlier.
Dundalk boss Darius Kierans made two changes to the team that knocked Bohemians out at Dalymount Park, with left-back Nathan Murphy replaced by Eoghan Osborne while injured top scorer Gary Shanahan’s void was filled by Maher who returned having been cup-tied.
Shels manager Mathews, meanwhile, made three switches to the side that eliminated Shamrock Rovers at Tolka Park as Shortall, Hurley and Paul Byrne replaced ex-Dundalk pair Ian Ryan and Philip Hughes – a record scorer for the Lilywhites in 2006 – and Philip Gorman.
The home side, searching for their first league win at Oriel Park since 23 March and their first of any kind in the Premier Division since 21 May, started brightly and almost led inside two minutes.
Rafter’s initial shot was deflected wide, with the resulting corner from Griffin finding the Tipperary man once more but this time his effort was blocked on the line by Seán Byrne.
Shels responded with a chance of their own on five minutes as Dawson played in Paul Byrne who looked to be away from Burns only for the defender to clip his heels, for which he earned a yellow card. Seán Byrne’s left-footed free-kick was central but well held by Cherrie.
Before the quarter-hour mark, the visitors went close again when Cassidy’s delightful through-ball found Paul Byrne in behind the Dundalk backline but the striker was flagged offside in what looked a marginal decision.
Cassidy was one of two of Dundalk’s promotion-winning team of 2008 in the Shels lineup, alongside Bennion, and the Lilywhites should have took a step towards preserving that top-flight status on 19 minutes.
Having seen a free-kick strike the wall moments earlier as he aimed for goal, Griffin stood up and hit another set-piece, from closer to the right, into the box where he found Maher. However, the midfielder, who recently returned to Oriel Park, blazed over when it looked easier to score, as he continues to chase his first club goal since June 2010.
On 28 minutes – after Cassidy’s shot from distance was saved just earlier – the Dundalk defence was almost left red-faced when Seán Byrne’s long ball forward was left by Burns for Cherrie who spilled under pressure from Dawson. But the Scottish ‘keeper recovered before the Shels No10 could slot to an empty net.
On 40 minutes, Griffin hit an ambitious free-kick from the left towards the far bottom corner but Bennion got down to beat it behind.
And Shels were in front moments later when Kavanagh fired a sweet strike past Cherrie from just outside the box having been set up by Paul Byrne and Cassidy.
On 54 minutes, Dundalk should have been level when Griffin’s free-kick found captain Shields on the six-yard line and he hooked the ball beyond Bennion but Hurley got back to clear off the line and behind.
Kierans introduced winger Lorcan Shannon past the hour mark as Dundalk looked for a way back into the game, and after a quiet spell, Rafter shot wide on 68 minutes.
Six minutes later, Bennion got down well to push Griffin’s 25-yard free-kick behind, before the Dundalk forward played in Rafter on the left of the box but he shot wildly off target when well placed.
Griffin then supplied Rafter once again but his 20-yard effort was touched wide by Bennion.
Experienced striker Barry Conlon replaced Burns on 85 minutes but just two minutes later Dundalk were down to ten men as referee Graham Kelly quickly showed Griffin a straight red card after an aerial challenge with Shortall.
Griffin was already set to serve a suspension for accumulating four yellow cards for next week’s trip to Shamrock Rovers and will now sit out that and Tuesday week’s journey to Derry. Any additional suspension could mean an FAI Cup ban for the 21-year-old five days later.
Dundalk continued to go forward in search of an equaliser but it never looked likely, with the defeat, along with the results of UCD and Bray Wanderers, now meaning that the Louth club will almost certainly contest their first playoff in five years.
For Shels, it was a first league win since a 3-2 success at the Carlisle Grounds on 13 July and keeps their hopes of a fifth-placed finish very much alive as they closed to within two points of Cork City.
Dundalk now travel to Tallaght Stadium next Friday knowing that they have not lost six straight Premier Division games since losing the last eight matches of the 1998/99 season, when they suffered their first ever relegation.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; John Mountney, Liam Burns (Barry Conlon 85), Derek Foran, Eoghan Osborne; Mark O’Brien (Chris Reilly 72), Chris Shields, Stephen Maher, Stephen McDonnell (Lorcan Shannon 62); Michael Rafter, Mark Griffin.
Subs not used: Conor McDonald, Nathan Murphy, Paul Walsh, Paul Whelan.
Booked: Burns (5), Shields (16), O’Brien (67).
Sent-Off: Griffin (87).
Shelbourne: Chris Bennion; Brian Shortall, Stephen Paisley, Andy Boyle, Seán Byrne; Paddy Kavanagh (Conan Byrne 89), Kevin Dawson, David Cassidy (Barry Clancy 82), Glenn Cronin, Stephen Hurley; Paul Byrne.
Subs not used: Paul Skinner (GK), Stephen Sheeran, Ian Ryan, Gareth Matthews, Lorcan Fitzgerald.
Booked: Kavanagh (48), Cassidy (54), Bennion (73), Hurley (88).
Referee: Graham Kelly (Cork).