Niall Newberry reports from Finn Park
Dundalk extended their lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table to five points on Saturday night thanks to an easy 3-0 win over basement club Finn Harps in Ballybofey.
Headed goals from Michael Duffy, John Mountney and Brian Gartland ensured that the league leaders went into their mid-season break on the back of an 11th win from their previous 12 matches.
The treacherous weather throughout the week in the north-west had cast this fixture in reasonable doubt in the afternoon, but the game was luckily given the go-ahead following a pitch inspection.
A postponement would have perhaps been a better outcome for Ollie Horgan and his Harps side.
They made four alterations from their 5-3 defeat at Bohemians last week with goalkeeper Mark McGinley, Mark Coyle, Mark Russell and Liam Walsh all taking their place in the starting line-up.
Dundalk made two changes from the side that thrashed Sligo Rovers 4-0 on the same night as Gartland and Dane Massey came in for Sean Hoare and Dean Jarvis, who both dropped to the bench.
It was Dundalk that had threatened early on when Chris Shields set Patrick Hoban on his way and his effort flashed just across goal as Duffy’s outstretched leg came within a whisker of getting a touch.
Hoban then headed over from a Massey cross not long before the SSE Airtricity League’s top goalscorer headed straight into grateful the arms of McGinley from Duffy’s superb right-field cross.
Harps’ resistance was broken in the 32nd minute when Mountney broke down the right flank before unleashing a cross that was powered home by the head of Duffy as Dundalk deservedly hit the front.
The hosts had a rare pop at goal when Mark Russell, who was playing at left-back, fired over an effort from distance after collecting a pass from one-time Malta international right-back Jacob Borg.
However, it was the visitors that doubled their advantage two minutes before the break when the in-form Mountney – who bagged a hat-trick last week – headed in from a Patrick McEleney cross.
That goal had seemingly killed the game off as a contest, but Harps almost got themselves back in it ten minutes into the second period when Coyle’s shot was saved by the underutilised Gary Rogers.
Duffy came close again at the other end, this time with another header at the back post from Mountney’s cross but McGinley – making his debut in goal for Harps – was equal to the attempt.
Dundalk did seal the three points with a third just past the hour-mark. Jordan Flores’ free-kick from the right was met by Gartland, who rose highest above the Harps defence to head past McGinley.
With their forthcoming three-week break in mind, Vinny Perth’s side took their foot off the pedal somewhat after that goal which allowed Harps to have the bulk of the chances in the closing stages.
Rogers had to be on hand to produce a fine save from Borg’s drilled shot from distance before Mikey Place missed a sitter, somehow turning his close-range effort wide when it looked far easier to score.
Dundalk were well and truly in holiday mode at this stage and Daniel O’Reilly unleashed a stinging shot which Rogers had to tip over the bar following what was some good perseverance from Borg.
Georgie Kelly’s headed off the crossbar late on as Dundalk won yet again, keeping them safe in the knowledge that they will be top going into their crunch match with Shamrock Rovers on June 28th.
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Jacob Borg, Daniel O’Reilly, Keith Cowan, Niall Logue (Gareth Harkin 71), Mark Russell; Mark Coyle, Sam Todd; Mikey Place, Raffaele Cretaro (Nathan Boyle 62), Liam Walsh (Mark Timlin 59).
Subs not used: Peter Burke (gk), Colm Deasy, Stephen Doherty, Tony McNamee.
Booked: Mark Russell (28).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields (Dylan Hand 88), Jordan Flores; John Mountney (Daniel Kelly 75), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy (Georgie Kelly 66); Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (gk), Sean Hoare, Stephen Folan, Dean Jarvis.
Referee: Damien MacGraith.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: John Mountney (Dundalk).