Monday 10 December 2018

Dundalk pounce for a winner in 'Kenny time'

Dundalk 2 Cork City 1

Ronan Murray of Dundalk in action against Conor McCormack of Cork City
Ronan Murray of Dundalk in action against Conor McCormack of Cork City
Patrick Hoban, Dylan Connolly and Sean Hoare celebrate Dundalk’s late winner

James Rogers at Oriel Park

The great sides have a habit of scoring late.

You think back to the Manchester Utd team under Sir Alex Ferguson and the countless times they won games in what became known as 'Fergie Time'.

After Friday night's victory over Cork City, maybe it's time we started to talk about 'Kenny Time' in relation to Dundalk FC.

The Lilywhites might have benefitted from a stroke of fortune at the weekend when Ronan Murray's cross cannoned off the face of the unfortunate Sean McLoughlin to hand the home side a victory which could prove massive in this year's title race. However, the fact Dundalk managed to score in the second minute of stoppage time was no fluke.

This was, in fact, the 11th straight league game in-a-row in which Dundalk have scored after the 75th minute - a run stretching back to that 89th minute winner from Pat Hoban against Sligo Rovers at Oriel Park on May 11th.

Their two stoppage time winners were against the sides closest to them - Cork City and Waterford. Both matches might have ultimately been decided by own goals but you create your own luck at times and Dundalk certainly did that in both those encounters. On both occasions it was the running and effort of Hoban that led to the opponent's errors.

Given the conditions on Friday night, it can't have been easy to be still running at full pace in stoppage time. Yet his sheer desire to get to Murray's cross showed just how much this Dundalk side want to win. The striker might not have got there with his front post dive in the end but his effort to do so was enough to put off McLoughlin, who was unsighted as the ball came off him into the net.

It was a massive, massive moment that saw Dundalk leapfrog John Caulfield's side to the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table.

There are still 12 games to go, of course, with plenty of twists and turns ahead no doubt but in current form this Dundalk side will take some stopping.

Stephen Kenny has a habit of bringing the best out of his side in the second half of the season and if they can build on a run of form that has seen them win nine league games in-a-row now for the first time since 1982 then that is a fearsome prospect.

Already Dundalk have scored 60 league goals in 24 matches this season. To put that achievement in context Cork City won the league last season with 'just' 67 in 33 games. When Pat's won the league in Stephen Kenny's first season in charge in 2013, they managed 'just' 56.

The double-winning side of 2015 and the league winning and Europa League qualifying one of 2016 might be the most two fondly remembered of the recent era but on current form this Dundalk team could match or even eclipse them in terms of achievement and style of play. There might have been plenty of changes since the last title-winning team - just five of Friday's starting 11 won the last league title with Dundalk - but the new arrivals since then have bought into the Kenny philosophy. Each of them echoes the manager's desire to win and be successful.

There's a long way to go in this year's title race still with a trip to Turner's Cross still on the horizon in September and European matches to negotiate as well but this was a huge step towards regaining the league title.

It would have been tough to take had Josh O'Hanlon's scrappy 66th minute equalizer denied Dundalk the victory their efforts deserved. Cork offered very little going forward for the most part prior to that and looked like a side content on playing for a draw.

They have frustrated the Lilywhites quite a bit in recent years by pressing them relentlessly throughout but the sheer heat and humidity on Friday meant they were unable to get as close to their opponents as perhaps they did at the past.

Kenny made two brave calls before kick-off in bringing in Sean Gannon and Krisztián Adorján and while the latter struggled initially, he repaid his manager's faith with a brilliantly taken goal just 29 seconds after the restart. At times in the first half the Hungarian was guilty of not getting ahead of the ball but his run to latch onto Michael Duffy's pass hinted at the boss having a word in his ear at half-time and it made Cork change up their game.

Their changes worked for them with O'Hanlon proving more of an influence that Graham Cummins and Karl Sheppard going close to grabbing a scarcely deserved winner for his side after that.

The changes for Dundalk also proved fruitful with Dylan Connolly causing plenty of problems and Murray conjuring up the cross which would ultimately decide the game.

It was no more than the Lilywhites deserved. Now the challenge is to keep building on it. When they beat Cork at Oriel earlier in the season they followed it up with a disappointing 0-0 draw against St Patrick's Athletic at Richmond Park. They return to the Inchicore venue this Friday for their final game before Europe where a win is a must.

You can be sure they won't be taking their eye off the ball though.

There could yet be many twists and turns in this title race but it's now Dundalk who are firmly in the driving seat.

The opening half was one of few clear-cut chances. It was the visitors who perhaps started the brightest but a tame Kieran Sadlier free kick from long range was the only thing that troubled Gary Rogers.

Dundalk began to impose themselves on the game after that with plenty of pressure applied on the champions. Their first chance of note arrived on 11 minutes when Jamie McGrath's diagonal ball into the box was nodded down by Hoban into the path of Duffy, who did well to steady himself before pulling his effort well wide.

Either side of a 23rd minute water break the hosts continued to press but it was Cork City who had the next chance of note in the 28th minute when a loose pass from McGrath allowed Cummins to tee up Barry McNamee for a shot that was straight at Rogers.

Robbie Benson then fired narrowly over at the other end before McNamee passed up another good chance on 42 minutes when he fired straight at the keeper once again.

Hoban then had two chances to break the deadlock before the break. Firstly he turned McLoughlin only to see his effort deflect wide off Alan Bennett. He then rose highest to meet Duffy's corner on 44 minutes only to somehow fail to hit the target.

The breakthrough finally arrived 29 seconds after the restart when Adorján raced onto Duffy's pass on the left to fire across Conor McCormack and McNulty to the bottom right hand corner.

The home side had a chance to add to their lead after that with Hoban heading wide but Oriel Park was stunned into silence by a Cork equaliser on 66 minutes.

After clearing from a corner the ball was hooked back into the box by Alan Bennett with substitute O'Hanlon stealing in behind Brian Gartland to nod past Rogers. Dundalk were adamant that the goal was offside - and it did look that way initially - but it was a correct decision by referee Rob Harvey to allow it to stand.

Both sides had chances take the lead afterwards with Duffy twice testing McNulty either side of Sheppard firing off the outside of the post after being set clear on the right by Sadlier.

Hoban then had two headers which failed to find the target from Duffy free kicks in the closing 10 minutes. When Duffy scuffed a good chance on 90 minutes from Connolly's cross it looked like the Rebels would hold out.

Then came McLoughlin's own goal which sent Dundalk top. It's a position they won't give up easily.

The Argus