Lilywhites win ugly in Bray ... again
Soccer SSE Aitricity League Premier Div: Bray Wanderers 0 Dundalk 2
There are certain romantic connotations about trips to the seaside.
People dream about sun, sea, sand and ice cream and it can paint an idyllic picture in your head. The reality is you're often left disappointed as the wind blows sand in your eyes, the cold means there's no chance of stripping off and the ice cream stalls have long shut up shop for the day.
There's a similar theme around trips to the Carlisle Grounds in Bray.
In theory the Seagulls' ground should be one of the most appetising to visit given its scenic location and proximity to a wide range of amenities. It has been rare in recent years that a trip to the Wicklow venue has been enjoyable though.
There has been many a wet night spent standing along an uncovered terrace at the ground for Lilywhite supporters, perhaps most notably the penultimate game of the 2014 season when Pat Hoban struck a late equaliser in monsoon like conditions.
Even on the rare occasion when the sun has peeped its head out, a poor result has meant the experience was soured somewhat. Bray threatened to derail Dundalk's title challenge at the Carlisle Grounds in 2014 by taking four points from a possible six from games with Stephen Kenny's side at their home ground. It was a similar story in 2016 when they came from behind to beat the Lilywhites in August of that year.
For whatever reason the Seagulls have always been a bit of a bogey side for this Dundalk team. It took a late winner from Ciaran Kilduff on his debut to win away to them in July 2015 and while many will dispute the awarding of two penalties in that game, it must be remembered Bray won 3-1 at Oriel Park last season.
That's why no one should complain about getting in and out with three points like Dundalk did on Friday night.
Yes, it wasn't pretty. Yes, Dundalk need to be much better going forward and yes, Kenny's side rode their luck at times but these are the sort of performances you need to produce to win league titles.
We know this Dundalk team can be free-flowing and deadly but we now know, if there was any doubt, that they can grind out results too and that's what you need to do at times over the course of a season to finish on top.
People look back at past campaigns with rose tinted glasses but this game reminded me of a trip to Lissywoolen almost four years ago on April 21st 2014 when it took a 94th minute Richie Towell penalty to earn Dundalk a scarcely deserved 1-0 win against bottom side Athlone Town.
Perhaps given Bray's position at the foot of the table with just a single point gained from the first series of games - ironically against Dundalk - people expected a goal fest. If only things were that easy to predict.
Bray are a better side on paper than their performances have shown this season and the resignation of Dave Mackey days earlier coupled with the arrival of caretaker boss Graham Kelly, who had Martin Russell in the dug out alongside him, meant that you always expected a bit of a reaction from the Seagulls.
That they gave as they certainly put it up to Dundalk over the 90 minutes. Indeed, the 2-0 scoreline undoubtedly flattered the Lilywhites who could not have had much cause for complaint had they found themselves either behind or level before the game was finally put to bed by John Mountney's insurance goal in the 94th minute.
A third minute sighter from Robbie Benson that floated harmlessly to the left and wide was pretty much the only threat that the visitors posed in the early stages as a fired up Bray took the game to their opponents.
On 11 minutes a dangerous cross from the left by Kevin Lynch came off both Chris Shields and Stephen Folan before being diverted goalwards by the knee of Paul O'Conor but his contact on the effort wasn't enough to trouble Gabriel Sava.
It was a warning though and one which Dundalk didn't heed as two minutes later Bray went close again. Ronan Coughlan's pass split the centre halves allowing Aaron Greene to race through on goal but with only Sava to beat he put his effort to the right and wide in what was a big miss for the home side.
Benson did have another effort from the right pushed away by Aaron Dillon soon after but by and large Dundalk carried no real attacking threat. Then a moment of magic, a rarity in the game, gave them the lead on 26 minutes. Bray failed to deal with Krisztián Adorján's corner and when it dropped to Hoban he lashed it past Dillon on the volley to the bottom right hand corner.
That was about as good as it got for the large travelling contingent for the remainder of the half.
Greene tested Sava with a stinging shot from the left that the goalkeeper had to save at the second attempt on 38 minutes while the keeper had to be alert again to make a low stop to keep out Gary McCabe's effort soon after. Then on the stroke of half-time O'Conor looked to have been played through by Conor Kenna's pass but once again Sava came to the rescue by racing off his line to block with his feet.
Fans expecting a second half reaction would have been left disappointed as Bray continued to dominate. On 57 minutes McCabe almost caught Sava off his line from a good 50 yards out but the goalkeeper did well to push the speculative effort onto his crossbar. Then seven minutes later Sava was called into action again when he had to claw away Dan McKenna's cross from the right from under his crossbar.
Dundalk did have a rare chance to test Dillon at the other end on 70 minutes but Michael Duffy's free caused more problems for the ice cream van behind the goal than it did for the Bray keeper.
It was never comfortable for Dundalk though and two minutes from the end there were sighs of relief when substitute Jake Kelly put in a dangerous cross from the right that was inviting a touch to send it goalward. Fortunately for the visitors no player in green was able to get on the end of it.
Dundalk opted to retain possession in the closing stages, holding the ball up for a couple of minutes in the left-hand corner to see out the game. Ironically, this was probably their best spell of the game and the controlled passing led to the insurance goal in the 94th minute as Duffy found space to square for Mountney to blast high to the net.