Ten man Sligo Rovers blew the SSE Airtricity League title-race wide open in Oriel Park on Saturday evening with a 3-0 demolition of Dundalk. It was a scoreline which handed Stephen Kenny his biggest home defeat in charge of the Lilywhites, on a night Cork City won 5-0 in Galway to move within a point of the champions with six games to go.
It took Sligo only 47 seconds to take the lead when Achille Campion capitalised upon a Gary Rogers howler. The Bit O’Red’s lead was extended seven minutes before the break when Phillip Roberts finished superbly to the bottom corner after excellent build-up play which saw the frontman link-up with his midfield runners.
Sligo’s ruthlessness deserved of the three-points and Raffaele Cretaro gave them the crucial third in the second-period with arguably the goal of the night, a venomous right-footed drive from 16-yards. This was all despite being down a man for the majority of the second-half having seen Liam Martin inexplicably dismissed on 54 minutes.
Dundalk came into the game seeking to extend their unbeaten league record against the Bit O’Red to 11 games, while also looking to maintain a comfortable buffer over Cork City at the top of the table with Tuesday night’s meeting in Oriel Park with the Rebels in mind.
Those aims were blown asunder by a well-oiled Sligo side who looked even more assured in the absence of Martin. The performances of skipper Craig Roddan and Cretaro were notable. However it was Roberts who stole the show. His pace, power and technical nous stood-out on a night where Sligo boasted heroes all over the pitch.
It all sets-up a mouth-watering contest between Dundalk and the rampant Leesiders midweek,.
Ciaran Kilduff and Robbie Benson were absent from the Dundalk squad through injury, while Stephen Kenny opted for Darren Meenan and Daryl Horgan on the flanks. If they are to get the three-points on Tuesday next, especially on the evidence of this showing, Kilduff and Benson will be required while John Mountney’s energy may also be needed.
Prior to the game, Sligo boss Dave Robertson asked for his side to be clinical in front of goal and Frenchman Campion answered his manager’s call within a minute of the kick-off. The summer addition was alert to tap home the opener when Rogers made a mess of Brian Gartland’s back-pass.
The former Sligo ‘keeper appeared to miss-kick his clearing effort and while he did well to scramble the ball off the goal line, Dundalk stood static in watching Campion touch home.
Rogers’ head dropped, especially seeing as it was his second such error in three league games, and the Lilywhites did nothing to help their dejected ‘keeper with several bobbly back-passes in the aftermath of the opener.
Like Dundalk, the Bit O’Red went into this encounter having had a mid-week assignment. Although their scoreless draw with Finn Harps was not what they may have been after, it was their third consecutive league clean sheet.
Those defensive credentials were strongly tested in the minutes after they took the lead. Ronan Finn twice came close to drawing Dundalk level, forcing corners which Dane Massey and Andy Boyle nodded off target.
As the news filtered through to a nervy Oriel Park about Cork’s early goals in Galway, Dundalk began to set-up camp in the Sligo half. However, a half-hour of dominance hadn’t yielded a goal and the Lilywhites’ back-four were appearing very uncertain on how to deal with Campion.
The striker limped off soon after. However, Dundalk’s rear-guard was to enjoy no let-up with Roberts stunning Oriel Park into silence shortly before half-time.
The striker started Sligo’s attack by holding the ball up well and finished it off by cutting inside from the left flank to wickedly dispatch the ball past Rogers.
It was almost deja-vu at the beginning of the second-half as Rogers spilled an effort, although in this instance there wasn’t a lurking Sligo presence to take advantage.
The visitors possessed a very dangerous attack, adventurously playing 4-4-2 but found themselves a man down when Liam Martin cynical hack-down of Sean Gannon nine minutes after the re-start saw referee Ben Connolly dismiss him much to the pleasure of the home support.
Sligo’s attack was not dormant for long though as Cretaro superbly shot into the top-corner after turning Andy Boyle inside-and-out. Rogers was left with no chance on this occasion with the veteran having engineered the opening with excellent foot-work.
Dundalk huffed and puffed, but on the night they were out of breath. Horgan, David McMillan, Stephen O’Donnell and Dean Shiels all had efforts. It was all Dundalk but again it was the visitors who came closest to scoring once more when Cretaro’s spectacular effort from 40-yards had Rogers panicking again. It summed the game up in a nut-shell.
On the back of this victory, Sligo jump back up to fifth while perhaps even more significantly, Cork sit only a sole point off the Lilywhites and now hold a superior goal difference. Tuesday night is well set-up.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland (Dean Shiels 72), Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Chris Shields (Patrick McEleney 46), Stephen O’Donnell; Darren Meenan (John Mountney 62), Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan; David McMillan.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Paddy Barrett, Shane Grimes, Ciaran O’Connor.
Sligo Rovers: Ciaran Nugent; Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Mick Leahy, Gary Boylan, Liam Martin; Pat McCann, Craig Roddan, John Russell (Daniel Kearns 67), Jimmy Keohane; Raffaele Cretaro, Achille Campion (Phillip Roberts 31).
Subs not used: Mark Hannon, Regan Donelon, Kieran Sadlier, Jason Hunt, Mikey Place.
Sent off: Liam Martin (54)
Referee: Ben Connolly
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Phillip Roberts (Sligo Rovers)