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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Winning league still the priority

Soccer SSE Airtricity League: Dundalk 2 Bohemians 0

James Rogers at Oriel Park

Back on top. From a fan's perspective the Europa League double header with AEK Larnaca might have taken centre stage this week, but Dundalk showed their main priority was very much retaining their league title against Bohemians on Sunday evening.

To the surprise of many, Stephen Kenny made just the one change from the 0-0 draw with the Cypriots three days earlier, with Dean Jarvis coming in for Dane Massey.

Dundalk might fancy their chances of advancing to the third qualifying round this week, but the team selection proved just how much they want their title back.

Realistically, whatever the result in Cyprus, Dundalk are up against it to get to the group stages of the Europa League. Those chances and the money on offer would increase next year if they were in the Champions League and this result keeps them on course to achieve that.

Cork City had briefly returned to the summit, having played two games more, but goals in either half from Sean Hoare and Pat Hoban saw the Lilywhites return to the summit.

The same pair had also been on target in opposite halves when Dundalk won by the same scoreline in Dalymount Park back on May 18th. It was game number three in a run which has now seen Kenny's side clock up a club record 11 straight league wins in a row.

That's the form of champions and while the Lilywhites were far from their best on Sunday, it's also the sign of a good team who can get the maximum points when not at their very best.

Playing fixtures between or after European matches have proven a difficulty for Dundalk in recent years. Last year they lost 1-0 at home to Shamrock Rovers, while a year earlier Galway United and Bray Wanderers claimed wins away from home in between big matches.

From an early stage on Sunday it was clear that Keith Long's side were going to be no pushovers either. They created a number of good openings without ever really looking like causing an upset.

Dundalk were, understandably, a little leggy at times, but their quality in the final third really told in the end and but for some top-class saves in the second half from Shane Supple this could have been a hugely flattering win for the hosts.

It was the visitors who made most of the early running, with Daniel Kelly, who scored a brace in the recent 6-0 victory over Bray Wanderers, conjuring up the first chance on eight minutes. After being picked out by an Ian Morris free, he turned Brian Gartland in the box, only to fire straight at Gary Rogers.

The Gypsies enjoyed most of the early possession either side of that chance, but the home side were always dangerous. On 17 minutes Michael Duffy cut in from the left, only to fire just over, while Hoban should perhaps have done better on 26 minutes when he could only fire over after Robbie Benson had picked JJ Lunney's pocket to set his side off on the counter.

Those were the warning signs ahead of the breakthrough on 31 minutes. Duffy's corner was floated in to the near post where Hoare rose highest to head past Supple for his second league goal of the season.

Bohs continued to press for an equaliser after that, with their best chance falling Kelly's way on 37 minutes when he cut in off the left, only to be denied by Rogers at close range, before Chris Shields hooked clear to deny him from following up from the rebound.

Any hopes Keith Long's side had of a turnaround was all but ended within six minutes of the restart when Hoban converted from the spot after Jarvis had been upended by Dan Casey.

It took some brilliant goalkeeping from Supple after that to prevent the home side from adding to their advantage. He twice denied Hoban a second, firstly with his feet on 55 minutes before a fine stop at close range eight minutes later. In between Hoare went close to his second when he met another Duffy corner, only to head wide. Supple was then called into action again on 70 minutes when he was forced to push clear Benson's effort from the right.

Bohs did finish well, but Ian Morris could only find the side-netting after Keith Ward's free broke to him, while Ward himself was denied by the butt of the post two minutes from the end. Supple then denied Georgie Kelly his first Dundalk goal with another smart stop with his feet in the 90th minute.

It was far from a classic but the result was all that mattered. The same again would more than do on Thursday.

The Argus

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