Dundalk maintained their place at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table by defeating a stubborn St. Patrick’s Athletic side 2-0 at Oriel Park this evening.
Second-half goals by Ciaran Kilduff and Ronan Finn during a steadfast six-minute period was enough to see Stephen Kenny’s men gain the three points from a game that threatened to run away from his side as a consequence of their poor play in the final quarter of the pitch coupled with St. Pat’s strong start to the second period.
The hosts though persisted with Patrick McEleney defining their intent on winning the match as Dundalk deservedly gained the three points.
Dundalk began the game on the front foot with much of their early passing exchanges centred around mercurial winger Daryl Horgan down the Lilywhites’ left-flank. Indeed, Horgan attracted a rash challenge from Ger O’Brien inside the opening minute which led to referee Derek Tomney awarding a free-kick and using his vanishing spray canister for the first time, something which attracted a raucous response from the Oriel Park patrons.
The Lilywhites continued to apply pressure and for the opening fifteen minutes, it was one-way traffic, however, Dundalk failed to apply the finishing touches to some great moves of technical brilliance with Ronan Finn, Patrick McEleney and Horgan all feeding off a sharp looking Ciaran Kilduff.
St. Pat’s almost took a surprise lead 25 minutes in, having secured their first meaningful period of possession in midfield, Conan Byrne drifted inside, picked up the ball and following a brief survey of Gary Rogers’ positioning, he belted an uncompromising effort which almost deceived Rogers, as the goal keeper tipped the effort over, just.
The Inchicore men seemed to settle from that point onwards, Verdon and Kelly were using their physical presence to perturb the home side from driving at Sean Hoare and Darren Dennehy in central defence for St. Pat’s with the early impact of McEleney being seen less and less as the middle crowded up.
Dundalk were supplying plenty of crosses down both wings with St. Pats’ full-backs, O’Brien and Ian Bermingham being tested by Dundalk’s flankers, however, poor deliveries were the moral of a pretty dull first half showing from both Dundalk and their Dublin visitors.
If Dundalk were to score though, it looked as if McEleney was going to be the provider. His swerving right-footed strike from 25 yards out, 10 minutes before the break caught the imagination as it headed towards Brendan Clarke, but the ‘keeper gathered low to his left to register his first meaningful save of the match. Andy Boyle saw his looping header saved soon after as the Lilywhites appeared to be inhaling a second-wind.
Despite the best efforts of McEleney and Finn with their intricate play, St. Pats’ two midfield bulldogs, Kelly and Verdon prevented them from linking with Kilduff, Mountney and Horgan as the sides went into the deadlocked.
The second period began frantically with challenges flying-in, all of which went unpunished as tempers flared. Billy Dennehy generated an opening for the Dubliners when he dispossessed a hesitating John Mountney 35 yards from Gary Rogers’ goal, however, he saw his fragile through ball cut-out with ease by Brian Gartland.
McEleney was still Dundalk’s best player and his Cruyff turn down the left-hand side had the home supporters in awe, St. Pat’s though certainly began the second-half in the ascendancy. Mark Timlin raced down the left side with numbers alongside him, only for Sean Gannon to crucially intervene and cut out the ball.
It looked like Liam Buckley had given his side a performance enhancing tonic at half-time because his side’s second period performance was distinctly better than their ultra-cautious display during the opening period. The attacking Dennehy brother, Billy, was having a very influential half with his quick-footed excellence on display.
Dundalk almost capitalised on defensive incompetence by Ger O’Brien and Sean Hoare on the hour mark though. The pair rashly rushed out towards Dundalk number 10 Ronan Finn, enabling Finn to play it through for Daryl Horgan down the left. The sizzling winger bared down on Clarke, the St. Pats’ keeper, but blasted his powerful effort high and wide.
The home side upped the tempo, Finn and Horgan again offered the shooting will, but Hoare and Dennehy bravely protected their goal on each occasion with committed defending.
Dundalk took the lead 73 minutes in. A poor clearance from Darren Dennehy nestled at the accommodating feet of Patrick McEleney on the edge of the box. The former Derry City man took the ball past a labouring visiting defence and drilled across for Ciaran Kilduff to tap home.
The Lilywhites settled the match within six minutes. Another lofted ball aimed towards Kilduff at the back post saw the tall striker peel off Sean Hoare and unleash a headed effort towards goal. Clarke saved superbly, but the ball squirmed underneath the despairing ‘keeper with Ronan Finn applying the decisive finishing touch, 2-0.
They could have scored a third through Finn, following good play by Horgan and McMillan, Sean Hoare bravely blocked Finn’s shot on the swivel though, with St. Pats looking depleted and beleagured in defence
The match drifted sleepily towards its conclusion with the Lilywhites winning by two goals to nil.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Shane Grimes; John Mountney, Ronan Finn, Stephen O’Donnell ©, Patrick McEleney (Robbie Benson 78), Daryl Horgan (Darren Meenan 92); Ciaran Kilduff (David McMillan 81).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Paddy Barrett, Ciaran O’Connor, Michael O’Connor.
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien ©, Sean Hoare, Darren Dennehy, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne, Graham Kelly, Billy Dennehy Sam Verdon, Mark Timlin; Jamie McGrath (Christy Fagan 74).
Subs not used: Pat Jennings (gk), Lee Desmond, David Cawley, Rory Feely, Michael Barker, Darragh Markey.
Booked: Graham Kelly (17).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Patrick McEleney (Dundalk FC).