Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk extended their unbeaten run in the SSE Airtricity League table and opened up a three-point gap at the top on Friday night thanks to a resounding 4-0 win over Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park.
A first ever hat-trick from John Mountney along with Patrick Hoban’s penalty ensured that the Lilywhites made it ten wins from 11 matches in what was an easy workout for Vinny Perth’s side.
After ringing the changes for their EA Sports Cup quarter-final win over UCD on Monday night, Dundalk were back to full strength for the visit of Sligo with no less than seven changes made.
Unbeaten in their previous seven matches, Sligo made three alterations from last week’s 2-1 win at Bohemians with Kris Twardek, Kyle McFadden and Liam Kerrigan all taking their place in the team.
Dundalk, who have made a habit of scoring late goals in recent weeks, took the lead inside the first 30 seconds here when Mountney powered home a header from Patrick McEleney’s excellent cross.
The Bit O’Red looked visibly shattered following that early concession and could have fallen even further behind on ten minutes when Jordan Flores unleashed a shot that rippled the side-netting.
Flores came close to scoring once again when McEleney – who looked dangerous throughout – sent a beautiful cross from the right that was glanced just wide by the head of the ex-Wigan Athletic man.
Sligo weren’t causing the Lilywhites too much trouble except for Romeo Parkes, who was looking lively, and he showed some excellent trickery just before flashing his effort across the face of goal.
Dundalk were reasonably comfortable throughout the remainder of the first period though, and had further chances through Michael Duffy, who saw two efforts blocked by Sligo defender John Mahon.
A cross from Liam Kerrigan was deflected into the side-netting by Chris Shields before defender Kyle McFadden’s audacious overhead kick was blocked by Flores from David Cawley’s resulting corner.
Sligo were growing in confidence and Ronan Coughlan’s incisive pass cut open the Dundalk defence, but Cawley – who was subsequently flagged for offside – could only manage to divert his effort wide.
However, it was the hosts that were awarded a penalty just past the hour-mark when Mountney and Hoban combined before the latter’s shot was handled inside the box by the Sligo captain McFadden.
And it was Hoban that stepped up to score his 11th goal of the campaign and seventh penalty as he sent Edward McGinty – who had saved from the spot on his last two visits to Oriel – the wrong way.
That seemed to have knocked whatever stuffing Sligo had left and Dundalk scored again on 68 minutes when Mountney headed home his second of the night from Duffy’s superb left-wing cross.
Three would soon become four with ten minutes remaining when McFadden fouled Hoban, just as the Loughrea native had taken a shot and the Sligo captain conceded his and Sligo’s second penalty.
Mountney stepped up to convert for a first hat-trick for Dundalk, capping off a memorable performance for both himself and Dundalk, who moved three points clear at the top of the league.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields, Jordan Flores (Dane Massey 66); John Mountney (Daniel Kelly 82), Patrick McEleney (Georgie Kelly 75), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Brian Gartland, Dylan Hand, Daniel Kelly, Lido Lotefa.
Booked: Sean Hoare (57).
Sligo Rovers: Edward McGinty; Kris Twardek, Kyle McFadden, John Mahon, Lewis Banks; Liam Kerrigan (Brian Morley 81), Daryl Fordyce, Sam Warde (Niall Morahan 46), David Cawley, Romeo Parkes; Ronan Coughlan.
Subs not used: Luke McNicholas (gk), Ryan Smith, John Russell, Jack Keaney, Ronan Murray.
Booked: Kris Twardek (38), David Cawley (65), Kyle McFadden (80).
Referee: Robert Rogers.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: John Mountney (Dundalk).