Lilywhites go through Hoops to pick up win
Dundalk 2 Shamrock Rovers 1
Catch us if you can.
That was the message from Dundalk FC after going top of the table on Friday night, albeit on goal difference.
Waterford FC's 2-1 win away to Cork City saw them and the Lilywhites leapfrog the champions to sit proudly at the summit of the Premier Division.
It's a position Stephen Kenny's side haven't found themselves in since the second round of fixtures in March last year when a 4-0 win away to Sligo left them top on goal difference.
While that was ultimately a position the side couldn't hold onto as Cork streaked clear, the current side look much more capable of pulling away themselves as they continue to build up a head of steam with a quarter of matches now played.
Friday night's performance wasn't a classic. Dundalk needed a bit of luck to get the job done, they had to hold out nervously in the end and they probably gave up a few more chances than they would have liked. To have got the win in such circumstances though is superb. These are the sort of matches you need to win if you're going to win a league title and while there will be better displays than this one, this was very much the performance of champions.
While Dundalk's defence was finally breached after 13 hours and 17 minutes on the night - and disappointingly from a set piece - the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Michael Duffy continued to show the sort of form which suggests he could be a PFAI Player of the Year winner this year, Krisztián Adorján shone once more while it was a best display of the season for man of the match Robbie Benson.
Add to that another fine display from Chris Shields, as well as his first league goal in almost four-and-a-half years and you couldn't help but leave Oriel Park with a smile on your face on Friday night.
Things will get a little more difficult from here on in, with six of the club's next nine league fixtures away from home. However, the fact the next two games are against bottom side Bray Wanderers and a Limerick FC side who have already been hit for eight by Dundalk this season should bring home that the Lilywhites can continue their winning run.
When you have goals coming from the likes of Sean Gannon last week and Chris Shields this week, it gives serious hope that Dundalk can push to regain their title.
Benson gave Stephen Kenny's side an early second half lead before a Kevin Horgan howler gifted Shields his first league goal in 1,636 days or 4 years, 5 months and 24 days since scoring against Sligo in August 2013.
The Lilywhites had played 149 league games since then with Shields involved in 123 of them but his fortuitous 62nd minute strike proved the difference on a night when Rovers' goalkeeping problems were exposed once again.
Stephen Bradley's side did go close to rescuing a point after Dan Carr became the first player to score against the Lilywhites this season with 15 minutes to play but Dundalk held out for a result that lesser sides wouldn't have got.
It was end to end in the opening half with the first big chance falling Rovers' way on nine minutes. The visitors broke down the right through former Lilywhite Ronan Finn whose deep cross to the back post found the inrushing Sean Kavanagh but with only Gabriel Sava to beat he fired across goal and wide.
Dundalk then had another let-off three minutes later when Finn beat Sava to Greg Bolger's ball forward. His first touch took him around the keeper but Sean Gannon got back to boot the ball out for a corner.
Lee Grace then went close again for the visitors on 23 minutes when he beat Sava to Kavanagh's corner but he couldn't keep his header down.
The home side had looked dangerous in the early stages themselves but their best chance didn't arrive until the 26th minute when they were denied by the woodwork. Benson played Michael Duffy in behind Ethan Boyle on the left with his pull back picking out Pat Hoban whose shot cannoned back off the bar.
The frame of goal would then deny the Louth men again on 40 minutes. Hoban released Gannon on the right and after beating Kavanagh for pace his cross picked out Duffy whose downward header beat Horgan but came back off the butt of the post.
The breakthrough finally arrived seven minutes after the restart. Benson started the move with a good burst in off the left past Bolger. As he shaped to shoot he slipped Hoban in. His shot was saved by Horgan but the goalkeeper couldn't keep hold of it with Benson following in to bundle the loose ball to the net.
Dundalk then doubled their advantage on 62 minutes following a howler by Horgan. There appeared little danger when Shields crossed from the right but somehow it crept under the keeper and in off the post for the midfielder's first league goal since August 2013. Bradley late laid the finger of blame for the goal at the feet of Greg Bolger for failing to clear after an apparent shout of "away".
Rovers were rattled at this stage and it could have got worse for them had McGrath managed to direct his header from Dane Massey's cross on goal moments later.
The complexion of the game changed with 15 minutes remaining though as Carr became the first man to score against Dundalk in the league this season when he headed home from Brandon Miele's corner. That goal ended the home side's run of 13 hours and 17 minutes without being breached.
The concession rattled the home side though and Rovers could have levelled three minutes later with substitute Gary Shaw played in on the left only to be denied by Sava, who 60 seconds later rather unconvincingly turned a Graham Burke effort on to his crossbar.
Benson passed up a glorious chance to wrap the win up a minute from the end when he was picked out by Stephen O'Donnell but somehow he fired wide from six yards out. It mattered little though as the Lilywhites held on to continue their unbeaten start.