Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk went top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division on Friday night with a truly enthralling 2-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park.
Second-half goals from Robbie Benson and Chris Shields had put the Lilywhites in full command before Daniel Carr’s glancing header pulled one back for Rovers, who put an end to Dundalk’s run of eight consecutive clean sheets, just as they did with the exact same scoreline in April 1991.
The visitors started very brightly and Ronan Finn, who predictably endured a frosty reception from those who once adored him at Oriel Park, floated a superb cross from the right into the path of the advancing Sean Kavanagh but the former Fulham man diverted his effort wide of Gabriel Sava’s post.
An incisive ball from Greg Bolger, another former Dundalk player, then caused a serious mix up at the back between goalkeeper Sava and Sean Gannon which almost allowed Finn to nip in and score.
It was Dundalk that created the best chance of the first half however, when Benson cleverly played through the in-form Michael Duffy on the left and he whizzed past Ethan Boyle before placing the ball into the path of Patrick Hoban, who took his time before hitting the crossbar.
Much of the travelling contingent thought that their side had taken the lead six minutes before the break but Kavanagh’s effort was ruled out for offside moments before Dundalk again hit the woodwork, this time through Duffy, who headed a magnificent cross from Gannon off the post.
Oriel Park erupted as Dundalk took the lead inside the 52nd minute when Benson beat the challenge of several Shamrock Rovers players before playing in Hoban, whose shot was parried by Kevin Horgan straight into the path of Benson and he tapped in from close range.
The hosts were on a roll now and Dane Massey’s snapshot went straight into the arms of Horgan before Finn, who cut a frustrated figure throughout, fired harmlessly over the bar at the other end.
Dundalk doubled their advantage from the most unlikely of sources when Chris Shields, who hadn’t scored a league goal in five years, planted a seemingly harmless cross from the right which somehow flew past Horgan, who had a night he’ll want to put behind him as soon as possible.
The mercurial Graham Burke then tried his luck from distance but saw his shot sail well over the bar before a lovely ball from Dundalk captain Massey was headed just over the top by Jamie McGrath.
The introduction of both Brandon Miele and Gary Shaw seemed to spark Rovers into life and they pulled a goal back with 15 minutes remaining when a Miele corner from the left was brilliantly headed home at the near post by Carr, who scored his second goal in as many weeks.
Rovers were suddenly playing with their tails up and Sava was forced into a very good save from Shaw before Burke, in the most typical of fashions, rattled the crossbar without warning via the fingertips of the Dundalk goalkeeper through a first-time volley from the edge of the area.
Benson produced his finest display in a Dundalk jersey so far this season but he could and probably should’ve killed Rovers once and for all when he somehow diverted his effort wide after Stephen O’Donnell had played him through, but it mattered not as the Lilywhites held on for all three points.
Dundalk: Gabriel Sava; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Stephen Folan, Dane Massey; Jamie McGrath (Stephen O’Donnell 76), Chris Shields, Robbie Benson, Michael Duffy; Krisztian Adorjan (John Mountney 65), Patrick Hoban (Marco Tagbajumi 83).
Subs not used: Ross Treacy, Dean Jarvis, Dylan Connolly, Sam Byrne.
Booked: Massey (90+4).
Shamrock Rovers: Kevin Horgan; Ethan Boyle, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Luke Byrne (Brandon Miele 68); Sean Kavanagh, Greg Bolger, Ronan Finn, Joel Coustrain (Gary Shaw 74); Graham Burke, Daniel Carr.
Subs not used: Tomer Chencinski, Ally Gilchrist, David McAllister, Aaron Bolger, Dean Dillon.
Referee: Derek Tomney.
Attendance: 3,056 (official).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Robbie Benson (Dundalk).