Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk made up further ground on top-of-the-table Shamrock Rovers thanks to a 2-1 win over the Hoops in what was a truly pulsating encounter at a packed Oriel Park on Friday night.
It was also a night in which Patrick Hoban made history as he smashed an 80-year club record for league goals as Dundalk moved up to second in the SSE Airtricity League table.
Michael Duffy was also on the scoresheet before Orhan Vojic made it a nail-biting finish for Dundalk.
Dundalk made two changes from the side that won 3-1 at UCD on Easter Monday with Daniel Cleary and Dane Massey replacing Brian Gartland and Dean Jarvis, who both dropped to the subs’ bench.
League leaders Shamrock Rovers were without the suspended Lee Grace and Trevor Clarke, so manager Stephen Bradley was forced to hand a league debut to 16-year-old defender James Furlong.
Joel Coustrain and Daniel Carr returned to the staring line-up with Sean Kavanagh a late withdrawal due to injury, while ex-Dundalk man Ronan Finn slotted into an uncompromising right-back position.
In what was a scrappy opening, Rovers captain Finn – who endured a frosty reception from his former admirers – sent a low cross which was gathered by Gary Rogers with Aaron Greene lurking.
As the last visiting team to record a league win at Oriel, the Hoops had further efforts as Dylan Watts blazed over from distance before Jack Byrne’s rasping shot stung the arms of the veteran Rogers.
The Lilywhites began to stamp their authority after that and Hoban played Duffy through on goal but the PFAI Player of the Year just couldn’t pull the trigger on time as Alan Mannus gathered safely.
Dundalk again should have taken the lead soon after that when both Finn and Roberto Lopes had to block shots from Hoban and Daniel Kelly before Hoban fired well over from the resulting rebound.
Sean Gannon, who had created that opening, was again causing Rovers problems down that right side when his low cross flashed dangerously across goal, just needing the slightest of touches.
The hosts went ahead five minutes before the half-time break when from Duffy’s corner, Hoban got the better of Lopes to power home a header and score a club record 70th league goal for Dundalk.
That record was last broken by the legendary Joey Donnelly, who bagged a total of 69 goals, when he scored twice against Bohemians at Oriel to overtake Eddie Carroll (47 goals) way back in 1939.
Buoyed by that landmark goal, Dundalk were pushing for a second before the interval and the in-form Daniel Kelly found himself in space before flashing a shot just wide of Mannus’ left-hand post.
Rovers came close to an equaliser five minutes after the restart when Byrne floated a free-kick into the box that was met by head of Lopes, who could only divert over the bar with the goal at his mercy.
Oriel erupted on the hour-mark as Dundalk doubled their lead when the outstanding Gannon sent a low cross into the path of Duffy, who had all the time in the world to plant into the bottom corner.
Now smelling blood, Vinny Perth’s side almost grabbed a killer third when Gannon again sent in a cross for Duffy but Mannus was this time equal to it, producing an excellent save to deny the winger.
Rovers thought they had pulled a goal back when Byrne’s free-kick was parried by Rogers before being turned home by Lopes on the rebound. However, the flag had already been raised for offside.
The Hoops did pull a goal back when two substitutes combined as Brandon Kavanagh’s long ball caused Cleary to slip and allow Orhan Vojic to slide the ball under Rogers to ensure a nervy end for Dundalk.
Rovers never really threatened after that though as Dundalk moved ahead of Bohemians in second.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Patrick McEleney (Dean Jarvis 90); Daniel Kelly (John Mountney 72), Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Georgie Kelly 78).
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Brian Gartland, Jordan Flores, Joe McKee.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Ronan Finn, Roberto Lopes, Joey O’Brien, James Furlong; Dylan Watts, Aaron McEneff; Joel Coustrain (Brandon Kavanagh 64), Jack Byrne, Daniel Carr (Orhan Vojic 67); Aaron Greene.
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Alex Dunne, Darragh Nugent, Dean Dillon, Thomas Oluwa.
Booked: Ronan Finn (41).
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Sean Gannon (Dundalk).