Ronan Finn 45' + 1' -
Dundalk maintained their place at the summit of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table with a hard fought 1-0 victory over a battling Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park on Friday. They earned all three points thanks to Ronan Finn’s penalty conversion on the stroke of half-time.
The match itself started quite tentatively with the home side dominating possession without really testing Michéal Schlingermann, the Sligo Rovers ‘keeper.
Dundalk striker Ciaran Kilduff has hit a mini-goal drought lately, having not scored since March 14, however the tall frontman began this match brightly and he nearly had a goal to add to his good early play after a quarter of an hour.
Brian Gartland’s lofted pass in behind saw a mix-up incur between Sligo centre-back Mick Leahy and his ‘keeper. Kilduff poked his considerably long right leg at the ball, only for Tobi Adebayo-Rowling to get back and clear his effort off the line for the Bit O’ Red.
Kildare native Kilduff was looking very threatening. He had a goal ruled out soon after as Dundalk continued to dominate proceedings with Stephen O’Donnell and last week’s hat-trick hero Ronan Finn dictating the play from the centre of the park.
Sligo rarely ventured into the home side’s half; their only effort of note coming from Kieran Sadlier whose 25-yard free-kick trickled harmlessly wide of Gary Rogers’ right hand post.
The Lilywhites had a big chance to take the lead though on the half-hour mark through David McMillan. Dundalk’s number 9 arrived late into the 18-yard box and met Kilduff’s clever chest down, but the former Sligo frontman fired well off target to the dismay of the impatient home support.
Sligo manager Dave Robertson would have been very happy with his side heading into half-time. Although they failed to create any opportunities of note with Raffaele Cretaro left abandoned up top. They were however succeeding in suffocating the Lilywhites in central areas.
Craig Roddan and John Russell were getting through trojan work in the middle sector and preventing the lively Finn and O’Donnell from getting Dundalk playing their passing game. The vociferous home faithful were growing more and more disgruntled as we headed for the interval.
However, Robertson will be disgusted at the concession of a spot kick right on the stroke of half-time. Having comfortably cleared Meenan’s weak corner, the Bit O’Red’s defence failed to engage the right winger when he regained possession.
His whipped effort into the area saw Gartland hauled down as he prepared to attack the cross, and referee Ben Connolly awarded the home side a penalty.
Finn stepped up and blasted home past Schlingermann to send the Lilywhites into a half-time lead, one that they scarcely deserved. That penalty saw Finn overtake Kilduff and McMillan as the team’s leading goal scorer this term.
Dundalk had the best move of the match eight minutes after the break. Excellent intricate play comprising one touch moves between Horgan, Finn, McMillan and Dane Massey had Sligo chasing shadows. However, the play ended with Regan Donelon being rashly bundled over by the eager Sean Gannon.
Sligo missed a guilt-edged chance to equalise just shy of the hour. Darren Meenan gifted possession to Sligo on the halfway line. The pacey Kieran Sadlier manoeuvred his way down the left and his perfect reverse ball was met by Jimmy Keohane, whose delicate effort went just past Rogers’ post with the ‘keeper and home support taking a palpable intake of breath.
Phillip Roberts was introduced by Sligo with just over 20 minutes remaining, replacing John Russell and meaning the Bit O’Red went man-to-man with Dundalk, reverting to a 4-4-2 system as the Englishman partner the extremely isolated Raffaele Cretaro in attack.
The game opened up from that point onwards with the mercurial Finn forcing a free-kick on the edge of the Sligo area, which Daryl Horgan fired narrowly over.
David McMillan was next to threaten, he latched onto Massey headed through ball and just as he looked ready to pull the trigger, Mick Leahy intercepted and the follow-up corner from the left was shot wide by Finn.
The match petered out with Sligo never looking like breaching the Dundalk defence despite late pressure, Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle looked comfortable throughout the 90 minutes.
Stephen Kenny will undoubtedly be happy with the result and the individual performances of Ronan Finn and David McMillan, who led the line very well for the final half-hour in the absence of his strike-partner Ciaran Kilduff.
He will though be uncomfortable with the amount of chances that his side coughed up in the second half and with their general play, which was less than fluent.
On the opposite side, Robertson will be delighted with the commitment and effort his team showed, for spells they were arguably the better side. However, he will rue the needless concession of the penalty on the stroke of half-time which cost his side what would have been a deserved point.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Darren Meenan (John Mountney 75), Ronan Finn, Stephen O’Donnell, Daryl Horgan; David McMillan, Ciaran Kilduff (Chris Shields 58).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), Paddy Barrett, Robbie Benson, Georgie Poynton, Michael O’Connor.
Booked: David McMillan (32)
Sligo Rovers: Michéal Schlingermann; Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Mick Leahy, Gary Boylan, Regan Donelon; Kieran Sadlier, John Russell (Phillip Roberts 68), Craig Roddan, Liam Martin, Jimmy Keohane; Raffaele Cretaro (Jaanai Gordon 87).
Subs not used: Ciaran Nugent (GK), Chris Lyons, Jordon Richards, Gary Armstrong, Michael Place.
Booked: Tobi Adebayo-Rowling (70), Raffaele Cretaro (81) & Craig Roddan (86).
Referee: Ben Connolly
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Ronan Finn (Dundalk FC)