Dour display makes it a night to forget for disappointing Dundalk
SSE Airtricity League Premier: St Pat's Ath 1 Dundalk 0
When it rains, it really pours. Dundalk fans were left out in the lashing rain for the first half of Friday's trip to Richmond Park before finally being allowed under cover at the start of the second half.
The real dampener of the evening had come a minute before the interval though when Daniel Cleary needlessly put through his own net to decide a match in which Vinny Perth's side never really got going.
Despite some late pressure, this was a night to forget for all involved with Dundalk as a first defeat of the season leaves them a whopping 10 points behind runaway leaders Shamrock Rovers, albeit with two games in hand.
The Lilywhites weren't great in a dour first half but Cleary's faux pas meant there was a real mountain to climb in the second half and it was a peak that the visitors never really looked like scaling.
They struggled to adapt to the wet conditions with long balls frequently overhit, players losing their footing with alarming regularity and few clear-cut chances created until the closing stages.
Perhaps the moment that best summed up Dundalk's display came four minutes into the second half when they won a free just inside the Pat's half. Rather than working it forward or putting it into the box, the play was worked backwards where, after about a dozen sideways passes, possession was coughed up with Pat's winning a free.
Prior to kick-off the suspended Mikey Drennan was the only player to have scored a league goal for Harry Kenny's men and their performance showed why. They lacked a real cutting edge despite plenty of endeavour but that sheer effort would be enough to see them pick up their best result of the season to date.
By contrast, Dundalk never really got going in midfield where the willingness of Conor Clifford, Rhys McCabe, Jamie Lennon and Lee Desmond curtailed any space.
This meant that long balls were a frequent sight but while Pat Hoban did his best at holding them up, the gap between him and his team-mates was quite often too large for anything meaningful to come about.
The introductions of John Mountney and Georgie Kelly, in particular, saw Dundalk pose a much bigger threat as the clock wore down but the introduction of the latter five minutes from time was much too late to truly matter.
The best chance of the first half had fallen the way of the visitors on 15 minutes when Sean Murray released Daniel Kelly on the break from a corner.
However with Jamie McGrath to his left he opted to go it alone and fired to the left and wide.
Michael Duffy did force a save from Brendan Clarke low to his right five minutes later but it was Pat's who looked the more threatening after that even if they only created one opening of note when Gary Rogers had to claw a snap shot from McCabe away on 29 minutes.
It looked like the sides were heading for a half-time stalemate when Dundalk pressed the self-destruct button in the first minute of stoppage time.
Clarke's kick-out wasn't dealt with, allowing McCabe to break down the left. His ball into the box looked comfortable for Rogers to deal with but Cleary suffered a real rush of blood to the head moment by sliding in under no pressure to put through his own net. Question marks remain whether a call was made but the goal was certainly avoidable.
Hopes of a response in the second half was slow to come. Indeed, it took until the 66th minute for Dundalk to really threaten for the first time when Duffy broke down the left past Dave Webster only to see his effort blocked by Kevin Toner.
Pat's had a chance to seal the game on 73 minutes when Chris Forrester found space for himself to get a shot away but Rogers was equal to it.
Dundalk did improve as the clock wound down with Murray clipping the outside of the left hand post with a speculative effort from the right of the box on 82 minutes.
Sean Hoare then had a header from Duffy's free kick two minutes later but it was straight at Clarke.
There were big calls for a penalty on 86 minutes when substitute Georgie Kelly was bundled over in the box by a definite shove from Toner but referee Ray Matthews was disinterested in the visitors appeals.
Kelly did go close on three occasions after that, firstly pulling a shot wide on the turn after linking up with Hoban on 89 minutes before seeing another effort flash just wide a minute later. Then in stoppage time he managed to flick a header goalward only for Clarke to save again.
The two strikers then almost combined for an equaliser in the sixth minute of stoppage time when Kelly flicked the ball on to Hoban who was denied by Clarke at a tight angle only to see the rebound cannon back off him and across the goal and wide.
In many ways that summed up Dundalk's fortunes.
This was a performance that wasn't good enough and leaves the side 10 points behind Shamrock Rovers, albeit with two games in hand.
They can't allow that gap to widen much more so how they respond to this first major setback in the next few weeks could well determine how this season pans out.