Finn stars as leaders make a statement against ten-men Rovers
Shamrock Rovers 0 Dundalk 2
SEVEN days after the euphoria of crushing Bohemians in their back yard, this was a night which brought Shamrock Rovers crashing down to earth.
Their mission this season is to wrestle the league crown from Dundalk. This comprehensive defeat at the hands of the champions in Tallaght means it is already looking like a long shot.
They did play the majority of this game with 10 men but Gary McCabe’s loss of discipline with his team already behind suggested that Dundalk aren’t just a better side than Rovers at the moment – they’re also smarter.
Stephen Kenny’s men have a 100% record on their travels this term, with their last away defeat in the league coming in September 2014. The dreadful surface at Oriel Park has become a hindrance for their playing style as they go in search of three titles on the trot.
This result keeps them two clear of Derry at the top and, significantly, they are seven ahead of both Rovers and Cork, who meet in a rescheduled match in Turner’s Cross on Monday.
Pat Fenlon knows the importance of that fixture, and he was an unhappy man at the final whistle as he squabbled with Dundalk assistant coach Vinny Perth and then exchanged words with Kenny.
His Rovers side were already staring defeat in the face at the interval here, a serious frustration for the manager given that his side had started the game well, refusing to allow the visitors to settle.
The champions have the quality to hurt teams in an instant, though, but their breakthrough goal just after the quarter-hour mark was helped by good fortune.
Rovers switched off after successfully defending a corner, as Sean Gannon took a throw to Ronan Finn, received the ball back and found Darren Meenan in the area with the winger sending a cross into the box that was deflected into his own net by Dave Webster. It was the ponderous behaviour of his colleagues that exposed the luckless defender.
Dundalk grew in confidence and went in search of a second, with Daryl Horgan a menace on the left side. One mazy run culminated with an unselfish pass that Dave McMillan fired off target; he perhaps expected the Galwegian to go for goal himself.
Things were bad enough for Rovers before the moment of madness from McCabe that increased the gradient of their uphill task. Referee Neil Doyle had already blown for a foul on Meenan when the Hoops captain launched over the ball with two feet off the ground and caught Stephen O’Donnell, an action which immediately drew a red card.
McCabe made it an easy decision for the referee and a hard night for his remaining team-mates.
Rovers actually regrouped to create a couple of set chances before the interval, although they were aided by O’Donnell operating at reduced capacity, and he was replaced by Robbie Benson at the break
Barely a minute after the restart, suspense was removed from the contest as the black shirts extended their advantage with a rapid-fire counter. Ronan Finn started the move and was in the right position to finish it off when a Horgan cross was headed into his direction by Meenan.
Finn was booed by the natives on his return to his former abode but, at his current rate, this could be the best season of his career. He’s on six league goals for the season, already ahead of last year’s tally, and enjoying the additional responsibility since Richie Towell’s departure.
There was no way back from the natives and they flirted with the concession of another on a number of occasions, with rampaging right-full Sean Gannon narrowly off target and Horgan denied by a goal-line clearance from Gavin Brennan.
Kenny even had the luxury of withdrawing McMillan – the only recognised striker in his squad due to the injury suffered by Ciaran Kilduff on Monday – and bringing Patrick McEleney into a relatively unfamiliar berth for the last 20 minutes
As disgruntled Rovers fans made their way towards the exits, green and white clad bodies endeavoured to push forward and, as the minutes ticked by, Kenny’s side were content to allow them press and then seek joy on the break.
They didn’t manage a third goal; by collecting the three points they had made a statement.
Shamrock Rovers – Murphy, Madden, Blanchard, Webster, G Brennan; Cregg, K Brennan; Clarke (North 52), McCabe, Miele; Drennan (Clarke 80)
Dundalk – Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields, O’Donnell (Benson 45); Meenan (Mountney 76), Finn, Horgan; McMillan (McEleney 72)
Ref – N Doyle (Dublin)