Thursday 18 January 2018

Dominant Dundalk on brink of three-in-a-row after condemning Longford to relegation

Longford 0 Dundalk 3

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Stephen Kenny returned to where it all started to take another step towards making 2016 the finest year of his career.

This easy win condemns his first club, Longford, to the obscurity of the First Division – the world they inhabited when they gambled on an unknown 27-year-old manager back in 1998. Only a smattering of locals were present for the final act.

In the end, it turned out to be a significant night at both ends of the table with word of Cork’s struggles in Inchicore filtering through.

The travelling supporters were in good voice at the end, conscious that just one win from Dundalk’s final three league matches will be enough to lift a third title on the trot.

Kenny worked miracles in his short spell in the Midlands, but everything else on his CV is in danger of becoming a footnote to an extraordinary campaign with this Dundalk side.

Three is the magic number, with a run consisting of matches every three days testing the stamina levels of the Dubliner’s all-conquering squad.

Kenny made his priorities clear by picking his strongest available team against the worst team in the top flight, eschewing the temptation to rest limbs ahead of Thursday’s Europa League date with Zenit St Petersburg.

He refused to make any calls that could have been interpreted as complacency, with the introduction of Chris Shields for the injured Stephen O’Donnell the only switch from the team that strolled past Shamrock Rovers on Friday.

This was also a comfortable evening for the visitors, although it did come at a cost, with John Mountney suffering a first-half injury.

Longford were spirited in the early exchanges but Alan Mathews’ charges never looked defensively sound so there was an inevitability about this outcome.

The hosts were always on a sticky wicket after a long-range strike from Dane Massey broke the deadlock in the 15th minute.

It emphasised Dundalk’s dominance that both full-backs were pushed into the Longford half, and it was an interception from right-back that shifted the ball to the other side and the direction of Massey, who found a way past from Ryan Coulter from 25 yards.

The loss of Mountney was a setback for Dundalk but his replacement Darren Meenan slotted in seamlessly.

He could have doubled the advantage from close range and Daryl Horgan then tested Coulter.

Longford midfielder Kealan Dillon did call Gabriel Sava into action, but hope of a fightback was extinguished before the interval when Ronan Finn’s through-ball was expertly converted by David McMillan.

The second half initially looked to be a case of how many. Three minutes after the restart, Horgan added a fortuitous strike when an attempted Conor Powell clearance from a McEleney cross rebounded off the Galwegian and into the net.

But Longford succeeded in tightening things up as Dundalk breezed to the finish line with news of St Patrick’s Athletic goals drawing cheers.

Next up for Dundalk is a showdown with a star-studded Zenit side which they can embrace with some of the league pressure lifted from their shoulders. Next up for Longford is a return to Irish football’s graveyard.

Longford Town – Coulter, Mulhall, Flynn, Gorman, Powell; Cowan (Dsane 70), Hughes (Makouta 84), Dillon (Gannon 61), O’Connor, McGlynn; O’Sullivan

Dundalk – Sava, Keane, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields (Benson 56), Finn; Mountney (Meenan 21), Finn, Horgan (Kilduff 76); McMillan

Ref – J McKell (Tipperary)

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