Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
It was a late, late show again at Oriel Park on Friday night as Sean Hoare scored a 90th-minute winner for Dundalk against St Patrick’s Athletic to stay top of the SSE Airtricity League table.
That dramatic win makes it nine wins from ten for the defending champions, who once again left it very late with defender Hoare scoring a goal that was far from pretty, but nonetheless invaluable.
Vinny Perth made four changes from the side that secured a last-gasp win over Bohemians just four days earlier as Brian Gartland, Dean Jarvis, Sean Murray and John Mountney all returned to the fold.
St Pats on the other hand were unchanged from their 2-1 win over Derry City in Inchicore a day later.
Perth is the first Dundalk manager to achieve 12 wins from his first 18 matches in charge since Alan Fox did the same in the 1966/67 season, so it was perhaps fitting that, before kick-off, Paddy Turner was presented with a replica of the league medal he got that season, having misplaced the original.
That was then, this is now, however, and it wasn’t long before Dundalk and St Pats took to the field.
Playing with what looked to be a 5-3-2 formation, Pats created the game’s first chance when right-back Simon Madden – once of Dundalk – sent a cross in for Michael Drennan, who headed well over.
St Pats were asking questions in the early stages and Rhys McCabe’s diagonal free-kick evaded a static Dundalk rear-guard before being headed straight into the arms of Gary Rogers by Drennan.
Dundalk came reasonably close to taking the lead themselves when Murray, sporting a new haircut, whipped a free-kick up and over the St Pats wall, but Brendan Clarke did well to tip around his post.
The Lilywhites were beginning to stamp their authority now and some excellent build-up between Murray and Patrick Hoban resulted in the latter pulling an effort well wide of the post from distance.
The first half was largely uneventful but the hosts did have chances when Mountney, back from suspension, headed onto the roof of the net before Murray’s curling effort was saved by Clarke.
Two minutes before the break, playmaker Patrick McEleney showcased his impeccable skill when he skipped the challenge of several St Pats players, but his final effort was straight into Clarke’s arms.
Much like the first half, the second period was something of a slow burner but Dundalk left-back Jarvis sent an excellent cross into the box which was turned over by St Pats captain Ian Bermingham.
Soon after that, McEleney whipped a cross into the danger area that evaded Hoban, who looked to have been brought down by David Webster, before Michael Duffy diverted wide from close range.
St Pats came close to taking a shock lead with about 20 minutes remaining when, from a long throw-in from the left, Drennan looked destined to score but his volley was excellently blocked by Jarvis.
With news of Shamrock Rovers winning circulating throughout Oriel, the Lilywhites were desperate to find a winner and went agonisingly close through Georgie Kelly’s header, which flashed just wide.
Then, in the 90th minute and from a Duffy corner, Webster’s clearance ricocheted off former Pats defender Hoare and sailed into the net beyond Clarke to send the home supporters into raptures.
Dundalk held out for the five minutes of additional time to secure yet another priceless three points. Another win, another late goal for the relentless Lilywhites, who as a result remain top of the league.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Jordan Flores 46); John Mountney (Georgie Kelly 71), Patrick McEleney (Daniel Kelly 88), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Dane Massey, Cameron Dummigan, Daniel Cleary.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Simon Madden, David Webster, Ciaran Kelly, Kevin Toner, Ian Bermingham; Darragh Markey, Jamie Lennon, Rhys McCabe; Michael Drennan, Gary Shaw (Jake Walker 85).
Subs not used: Barry Murphy (gk), Paul Cleary, James Doona, Chris Forrester, Cian Coleman, Kevin Kelly.
Booked: Gary Shaw (55), Michael Drennan (82), David Webster (84), Brendan Clarke (89), Ian Bermingham (90+3).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Attendance: 2,377 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Dean Jarvis (Dundalk).