Niall Newberry reports from the Showgrounds
Dundalk moved three points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table on Monday night following a routine 2-0 win over a struggling Sligo Rovers side at the Showgrounds.
Goals in either half from Patrick Hoban and Michael Duffy ensured that Dundalk won their 13th league match on the bounce, opening up a three-point gap between themselves and Cork City – with a game in hand – after Cork could only draw with St Patrick’s Athletic a day earlier.
Sligo Rovers, who had recorded a vital away win at Limerick just three days beforehand, welcomed back Kyle Callan-McFadden and David Cawley from suspension as the Bit O’ Red made two changes.
Dundalk also made two changes from their win at Bray Wanderers on the same night. Sean Hoare and Dylan Connolly returned to the starting eleven in place of Daniel Cleary and Patrick McEleney.
As in the previous meeting between these sides at this ground, it was the hosts who created the first chance when Rhys McCabe’s effort from distance was saved by Gary Rogers early on.
The Lilywhites had to soak up more pressure from Sligo before settling into the match and left-back Dane Massey’s long-range shot forced a decent save out of Mitchell Beeney at the opposite end.
Most of the travelling contingent thought their team had taken the lead when Jamie McGrath, after some good work down the left by Massey, slipped in Patrick Hoban but he hit the side netting.
Dundalk did make the breakthrough right on the half-hour mark when a Chris Shields pass rather fortuitously found its way to Michael Duffy.
He skipped the challenge of three Sligo defenders before curling a sublime effort past the helpless Beeney to score his 10th league goal of the season.
Duffy looked to be in fine fettle throughout the evening and he kept Beeney on his toes for the remainder of the first half, forcing the Sligo goalkeeper into two fine stops in quick succession.
Sligo really should’ve levelled matters when Lee-J Lynch’s low cross from the right evaded the Dundalk backline, but Rogers somehow diverted Michael Drennan’s flicked effort out for a corner.
The visitors went agonisingly close to doubling their advantage just before half time when some nice play between Hoban and Duffy saw the latter cross for McGrath, who turned his effort over the bar.
The second period was a far scrappier affair as both teams created few chances of note with Sean Gannon’s cross-cum-shot that was easily gathered by Beeney a prime example of the lack of quality.
One highlight was the introduction of Raffaele Cretaro, who came on in place of Regan Donelon with 20 minutes remaining to set a new club record in what was his 432nd league appearance for Sligo.
The standing ovation he received from both sets of supporters is a fair indication of the respect the ‘Tubbercurry Tornado’ has earned within League of Ireland circles since making his debut in 2000.
Duffy continued to look menacing in the closing stages and he showed superb skill to get away from two Sligo defenders. However, Beeney saved with his feet before Hoban shot wide on the rebound.
Dundalk made the points safe on 78 minutes when Duffy’s corner from the right was expertly headed into the bottom corner by Hoban, who scored his 24th goal of the season.
The Galway man is now just one behind Richie Towell's club record for league goals in a single campaign, which he set in 2015.
That record could and should have been equalled after Hoban almost lobbed Beeney from distance before the magnificent Duffy surged down that left once again, putting the ball on a plate for the league’s top scorer, who uncharacteristically skewed wide when it looked far easier to score.
The full-time whistle blew as Stephen Kenny’s side moved three points clear at the top of the table, while Sligo have now failed to win in any of their last nine home matches against the Lilywhites.
Sligo Rovers: Mitchell Beeney; Kyle Callan-McFadden, John Mahon, Patrick McClean, Regan Donelon (Raffaele Cretaro 70); Jack Keaney, David Cawley; Rhys McCabe (Lewis Morrison 82), Lee Lynch, Kris Twardek (Adam Wixted 64); Michael Drennan.
Subs not used: Ed McGinty, Seamus Sharkey, Liam Kerrigan, Darren Collins.
Booked: David Cawley (32), Rhys McCabe (34), Jack Keaney (51), John Mahon (80).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Dean Jarvis 89); Dylan Connolly (Patrick McEleney 70), Jamie McGrath (John Mountney 80), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Daniel Cleary, Ronan Murray, Georgie Kelly.
Booked: Dylan Connolly (68), Dane Massey (76).
Referee: Ben Connolly.
Attendance: 1,649 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Michael Duffy (Dundalk).