Dundalk kept their title bid right on track as they defeated Sligo Rovers 2-0 on a fantastic evening for the Lilywhites at Oriel Park. Goals in either half from Patrick Hoban and Chris Shields gave Stephen Kenny's side the victory in what was a pulsating match.
Kenny made just one change from his side which defeated Shelbourne last weekend with the fit again Dane Massey returning to the starting XI in place of Chris Shields who dropped to the bench. For the visitors, meanwhile, there was also just the one change which forced a reshuffle in the line up as Anthony Elding came in for the injured Evan McMillan.
It was a tentative opening from both sides with the visitors seeing more of the ball and they forced the first chance of the evening on six minutes when a quick free-kick from Joseph Ndo found Alan Keane who crossed for Gavin Peers but he headed over from six yards.
Dundalk began to get a foothold in the match at that point and forced Gary Rogers into a punch before some testing crosses were dealt with by the net-minder.
The opening goal arrived in the 15th minute as Dundalk rushed forward through Kurtis Byrne, the ball broke to Richie Towell on the edge of the box, who headed back into the danger area for Hoban. He brilliantly turned and hit an overhead kick to the top corner past the helpless Rogers.
Sligo Rovers pressed for an immediate response and they almost got it when Kieran Djilali took advantage of some sloppy play from Dundalk’s Mark Rossiter on the edge of the box. He managed to hold off Rossiter’s tackle and curled a wonderful shot towards Peter Cherrie’s goal but it went inches wide of the post.
Djilali turned creator moments later when his corner found Rafaele Cretaro but he headed straight at Cherrie. Sligo continued to press and should have deservedly drawn level five minutes before half-time. Djilali was, once more, the dangerman as his cross found Peers and the 27-year-old smashed the bar with a header.
Sligo finished the half the dominant side and will feel that they should have went in at least level, instead it was Dundalk who took a 1-0 lead into the break.
The home side started the second half the brighter and Stephen O’Donnell had a shot blocked immediately after the break before Dane Massey’s cross was inches away from finding Byrne at the back post.
Towell then forced a superb save from Rogers as the young midfielder shot on the run and from the resulting corner, Brian Gartland’s header was deflected wide. From that corner, Meenan’s cross causes even more trouble with Rogers unable to claim and finds Byrne but his shot is once again was blocked out for a corner.
Finally, The Lilywhites got the breakthrough at the third attempt when Meenan’s wonderful cross found the head of substitute Chris Shields and he powered his header to the net to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
Meenan was once more the creator after winning a free-kick against Aaron Greene and his cross found Hoban but the former Mervue United man headed inches over the bar.
As the half wore on, Dundalk were content to sit on their lead but did have a penalty claim turned down when O’Donnell went tumbling in the box. Sligo, knowing they needed something, powered forward and substitute Danny North had a long range half-volley deflected wide of the goal and from the resulting corner it really should have been 2-1.
Cherrie’s attempted punch fell right to Cretaro and his shot at goal beat everyone and crashed off the post, rebounded off the goalkeeper and wide.
That was as close as the Bit O’Red got as their anticipated onslaught never materialised and Dundalk recorded a 2-0 win which keeps them very much in the title hunt.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter, Andy Boyle, Brian Gartland, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell; Darren Meenan, John Dillon (Chris Shields 51); Kurtis Byrne (John Sullivan 88), Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 90).
Subs not used: Francis McCaffrey, Jordan Keegan, Francis McCaffrey, Ciaran O’Connor, Aaron Shanahan (GK)
Booked: Towell (41), B Gartland (59), S O'Donnell (67).
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers, Jeff Henderson, Seamus Conneely (Danny North 63); Kieran Djilali, David Cawley, Joseph Ndo, Aaron Greene, Rafaele Cretaro (Lee Lynch 81); Anthony Elding.
Subs not used: Pascal Millien, Danny Ventre, Lee Lynch, Jake Dykes, Liam Martin, Ciaran Kelly (GK)
Booked: Peers (52)
Referee: Neil Doyle
Extratime.ie man of the match: Richie Towell (Dundalk).