Rovers rocked by champions

Shamrock Rovers 0-2 Dundalk

Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Barry Murphy watches after his team-mate David Webster deflects the ball into the net for Dundalk's first goal in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division clash at Tallaght Stadium last night Photo: Sportsfile

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Their inability to beat the top teams last season made sure that Shamrock Rovers had no real say in the title race.

It's still early days in the 2016 campaign but it's shaping up the same way for the Hoops, who dropped to sixth in the table on the back of last night's 2-0 defeat at home to Dundalk, an own goal from Dave Webster and then a fine finish from Ronan Finn doing the damage.

In their games against the top three so far this term, Rovers have failed to get a point or even a goal and, already seven points behind league leaders Dundalk, the Hoops can ill-afford to fall further back when they meet Cork City on Monday night.

But Rovers can have few complaints about the result, or the referee's decision to send off Gary McCabe midway through the first half, as they were second best, and the fact that they failed to force one save of note from keeper Gary Rogers over 90 minutes of a key home game is a concern.

This was a big statement from Dundalk, both about their title ambitions but also how they'd cope with the absence of striker Ciaran Kilduff for a long spell due to an injury, as midfielder Ronan Finn contributed a goal yet again.

Both sides struggled to get into gear in the early stages on a dry pitch, and the lead goal was a suitably scrappy affair. Daryl Horgan had gone close with the game's first real chance on 15 minutes but it was Darren Meenan who claimed the assist on the first goal, Meenan sending in a cross which Dave Webster managed to slice past his own keeper.

Horgan was at the heart of everything for Dundalk and he went on another run on 26 minutes, laying the ball off for Finn who shot wide. Already a goal down, Rovers were then a man down on 31 minutes, McCabe - correctly - shown a straight red card for a lunge at Stephen O'Donnell.

Former Rovers hero O'Donnell was in the wars and was unable to carry on for the second half due to an ankle injury but the away side looked anything but perturbed as they doubled their lead just seconds into the second half.

Their first goal was scrappy but the second one was pure class, Meenan again the instigator as his cross was laid off by Dave McMillan and Finn was on hand to finish well, the sixth goal of the season now from the midfielder who is their top scorer.

The trademark of the Dundalk side under Stephen Kenny is their ability to get goals from any area of the pitch and we saw why on 50 minutes as full back Sean Gannon went on a lengthy run and bore down on Murphy's goal, the Rovers keeper coming out to save well.

Rovers could have done with that sort of adventurousness from one of their side as they were simply unable to test Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers and his back four, the closest they came being a snap-shot by sub Danny North, on as a second-half sub for the ineffective Dean Clarke.

Dundalk were better in terms of attacking play though McMillan should really have hit the target on 65 minutes after being set up by Gannon.

And the away side should have been 3-0 up on 69 minutes, as Finn waltzed into the box and rounded keeper Murphy, playing the ball back to Horgan but Gavin Brennan saved Murphy's blushes by clearing the shot off the line.

On 71 minutes, Simon Madden did his best for Rovers against his former club, the full back bombing down the line and firing in a cross, but there was no one in a green and white shirt to connect and the danger elapsed. Frustration set in late on and one Rovers supporter, upset at this third loss in eight games, was ushered away from a confrontation with members of the board.