St Pats were fleeced in the North East as Dundalk hit them for four to run out easy winners in Oriel Park. Dundalk regained their mojo at a critical stage in the season, to cruise to a 4-1 win and a ten point lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity Premier Division.
There has been some memorable clashes between these two fine footballing sides in recent seasons: A 2013 dual in Richmond Park effectively secured the title for Pats as they saw off a late challenge from the eventual runners up Dundalk. In 2014, a 4-1 win in that same venue sealed the passing of the guard as the Lilywhites announced themselves as more than a flash in the pan the season before– and delivered by being crowned champions. This Louth Rout seemed a very clear indicator that Dundalk’s blip (by their own high standards) in form was nothing for the chasing pack to get excited about, while also dousing Pats remarkable run of nine wins on the trot.
It was an important night in Irish football with the top four playing across two fixtures. A Rovers win over Cork coupled with Dundalk’s victory here puts a daunting ten point gap between The Lilywhites and their nearest rivals. It would be presumptuous to suggest the title race was over even if the Oriel Park sound system did cheekily belt a verse of Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ – only just allowable because they are in fact the current league champions – but this Dundalk side will take some beating and with that the destination of the league trophy really is in their hands.
The match began with a caginess and high tempo, which made for an open and entertaining watch. The home side were first to settle and it took them just six minutes to register the opening goal. Daryl Horgan’s corner was butted home by Brian Gartland to send the home fans into raptures. Their jubilations further prompted by news of a Shamrock Rovers lead against second place Cork.
The Lilywhites were relentless in the first half. Richie Towell and Daryl Horgan were real livewires and looked threatening throughout. Also causing bedlam in the Pat’s defence was the tireless frontman, Daivd McMillian. McMillian headed narrowly wide on the ten minute mark from a Ronan Finn cross but had to wait just three minutes later to make it two; Finn was again the provider as he caught the Saint’s defence asleep, only this time McMillian’s finish was faultless to make it two nil.
The pressure didn’t stop there. Sean Gannon nipped in from the right and showed nifty footwork to make ground into the opposition box, he teed up Ronan Finn; whose thumping effort had Clarke beaten had it been on target.
Pats were not without passages of play and seemed to have settled as the half hour mark approached. Sean Gannon’s miss-clearance almost turned into an assist for Ian Birmingham but the defender’s opportunistic effort spun wide of Gary Roger’s goal. Encouraged by this, the Dubliners were foraying forward seeking a way back, but the problem was that Dundalk were equally able to counter with ferocity.
Sure enough on 32 minutes, after a frustrated Chris Forester solo-run gave possession to Dundalk’s backs, they confidently played it out of the back in a sweeping move. Horgan was set off on a mazy run of his own. He slipped a ball into the box for McMillian who coolly slotted home. That made it 3-0 and put his league scoring into double figures.
A free kick near the forty yard mark gave Pats some respite amidst a real blitzing. The result really was fresh air for the beleaguered Pat’s fans: James Chambers converted to throw his side a lifeline when they seemed to be floundering. But that foothold was to be short-lived, as just four minutes later, Dundalk were three clear again. Finn, who benefited from a bit of luck in rounding Greg Bolger, cut inside the box to put the ball on a plate for Horgan to convert on 41 minutes and put the result to bed before the first half closed.
The second half couldn’t live up to the excitement of the first half and there was to be no more goals. Dundalk seemed content to see the game out and held possession without busting a sweat to seek a fifth goal. Tensions spilled over fifteen minutes after the restart. A frustrated Forester might have been lucky to stay on the pitch after raising his hands to push his opposite number 17, Richie Towell. The same might be said about Towell who appeared to catch a tumbling Jamie McGrath with a trailing heel as the young Pats player fell to the ground. After the ensuing handbags, that involved almost all the outfield players from either side, David McKeon opted to book both Forester and Towell.
Pats were not without chances and they grew into the game as the clock ticked down. The best of which fell to James Chambers whose powerful dipping 74th minute free kick made Rogers work to push the ball clear. Had it gone in, it would have proved little more than a consolation goal as the Saints never really looked like overturning the deficit. The victory far from flatters the league leaders who answered the questions asked of them lately in the most comprehensive way possible.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Stephen O’Donnell, Richie Towell, Ronan Finn (Chris Shields 58); John Mountney, Daryl Horgan (Darren Meenan 89); David McMillian (Seán Maguire 85).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Shane Grimes, Kurtis Byrne, Paddy Barrett, Sean Maguire.
Booked: Gannon (37), Towell (68), Gartland (74).
St Pats: Brendan Clarke, Ian Bermingham, Lee Desmond, Sean Hoare, Shane McEleney, James Chambers, Conan Byrne, Greg Bolger(Jason McGuinness 46), Chris Forrester, Jamie McGrath (Darragh Markey 66)
Subs not used: Sam Verdon, Paul Rooney, Hack Bayly, Stephen Ball, Conor O’Mally.
Booked: Bermingham (48), Forrester (68), Desmond (70).
Referee: David McKeon.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Daryl Horgan (Dundalk).