Friday 18 January 2019

No trace of bank holiday blues for the Lilywhites

Soccer: SSE Airtricity League Premier Division - Shamrock Rov 2 Dundalk 5

Stephen Kenny tries to avoid Shamrock Rovers’ Ethan Boyle as the ball goes out of play during Friday night’s clash in Tallaght.
Stephen Kenny tries to avoid Shamrock Rovers’ Ethan Boyle as the ball goes out of play during Friday night’s clash in Tallaght.

James Rogers at Tallaght Stadium

The June Bank Holiday weekend has thrown up more questions than answers about Dundalk in recent years.

This year was different though. This year the team responded emphatically to anyone who doubted them with a superb victory over an admittedly beleaguered Shamrock Rovers.

It's hard to believe that it's four years since Stephen Kenny's side had won their opening match of the summer.

Last year a Sean Maguire hat-trick at Oriel Park more or less killed off any remote hopes that the Lilywhites had of getting back in the title race. In 2016, a Stephen Dooley goal gave Cork City a 1-0 win in Turner's Cross while Bohemians were the party poopers in 2015 when they ran out 2-1 winners in Oriel Park for a defeat that would prove to be Dundalk's only one of that campaign. While in two out of those three seasons, Kenny's men would go on to lift the title, those defeats led to increased scrutiny with plenty of critics only too happy to weigh in and have a go.

It looked like history may be set to repeat itself in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night when Daniel Carr gave Stephen Bradley's men a fourth minute lead. A sluggish Dundalk start saw them more or less shoot themselves in the foot.

Dane Massey lost possession after receiving the ball back from a throw he had taken with Ronan Finn capitalising to whip a dangerous ball into the box that Brian Gartland almost turned into his own net. His blushes were spared by Gary Rogers, who got down well to get a hand to the ball but that hand was not strong enough to claw it away allowing Carr the opportunity to steal in for the simplest of close range finishes.

The early concession coincided with one of Dundalk's worst starts to a game in memory. Defensively the side were at sixes and sevens, the midfielders were struggling to string a handful of passes together and it summed things up perhaps that there were 18 minutes on the clock before a first shot was registered from the visitors.

By that stage Dundalk were perhaps fortunate not to be two behind. After a penalty appeal for Brian Gartland's challenge on Aaron Bolger was dismissed, Finn was then inches away from beating Rogers with a 10th minute free kick.

Rogers got his side out of jail though two minutes later with a Schmeichel-esque save to deny Carr from close range after he had been picked out unmarked by Joel Coustrain's cross.

Then came arguably the game's most contentious issue on 14 minutes. Jamie McGrath looked to lead a break away when he was absolutely flattened by a high scissor tackle from Roberto Lopes. Play resumed as the Athboy man lay on the ground and was only halted when Carr caught Gartland late moments later.

Much to the amazement of everyone in Tallaght referee Ben Connolly, who looked equally inept when refereeing the recent Derry City match at Oriel Park, issued Lopes with just a yellow card for a challenge that somehow failed to break McGrath's leg.

While Rovers could count themselves fortunate not to be down to 10 men, that incident took the wind out of their sails slightly as Dundalk came more into the game, albeit slowly.

The first chance arrived on 18 minutes when Sean Hoare's cross from the right broke to Michael Duffy but he couldn't keep his effort down. Daniel Cleary then got up to meet Robbie Benson's corner three minutes later but Tomer Chencinski was equal to it.

Rovers were still a threat but the loss of Carr to injury on 25 minutes was a blow. His replacement Gary Shaw would then inadvertently block Ethan Boyle's goalbound header two minutes later after he was picked out by Aaron Bolger's cross.

Dundalk were playing slightly better but struggling to create anything of note. Then a real moment of quality brought them level on 37 minutes. Rovers switched off as a quick free kick from Michael Duffy released Robbie Benson on the left. His cross was headed clear at the near post by Greg Bolger but the loose ball was seized upon by Duffy, who skipped past Bolger's follow up challenge before dinking a superb cross into the box for Patrick Hoban to attack. The striker needed no second invitation as he got up above Lopes to head past Chencinski to the top left hand corner.

Dundalk were suddenly level in a game they scarcely deserved to be but it would give them a platform to build off for the second half.

Rovers' cause wasn't helped by the loss of Finn at the break as he failed to recover from a clash of heads with Gartland just before half-time.

Kenny would have tried to rally the troops at the interval and it almost paid immediate dividends within a minute of the restart as Duffy led a break from a Rovers corner only to fire tamely at Chencinski when a square ball to Dylan Connolly may have been more appropriate.

The lead goal arrived on the hour mark though. Benson floated a free in from the left with Cleary getting up above everyone to head home his first goal for the club.

Within three minutes it was 3-1 with Dane Massey driving into the box before firing a shot under the despairing dive of Chencinski at his near post.

It could have been four five minutes later but Chencinski did well on this occasion to push away Duffy's effort after he had broken in off the left.

It looked like Rovers were back in it briefly when they made it 3-2 on 71 minutes. A shot from the right by substitute Brandon Kavanagh came back off the crossbar with Lopes on hand to tap in the rebound.

The Hoops' hopes of a turnaround lasted less than 60 seconds though as McGrath released Benson through on goal at the other end for the midfielder to fire home off the inside of the left hand post.

Benson would come to his side's rescue two minutes later when he headed off the line from Lopes.

He then put the game to bed on 77 minutes with what was his 10th career goal against Rovers. The Athlone man was slipped in by a neat little past from substitute Krisztián Adorján to slot home the insurance goal.

Chants of 'We Want Bradley Out' followed from the visitors.

The Hoops are not in a good place right now.

On the flip side, Dundalk are flying. This wasn't a great performance but it was one which had all the hallmarks of a champion.

The last time Dundalk won a game at the start of June was back in 2014 when they beat UCD at Oriel Park. Ironically, the scoreline on that occasion was also 5-2.

That year it went down to the wire with Cork City. This time around it looks like it may well do again.

The break is fast approaching but Dundalk still look like a side with more to come - a scary feat given they have now scored 50 goals already this season.

The June hoodoo was broken on Friday night and in doing so it sent out a statement. Dundalk are no pushovers, even when not at their best.

The Argus