Dundalk leave it late to break deadlock and Waterford hearts in dramatic finale
Dundalk 1 Waterford 0
THE full-time roar at Oriel Park paid a compliment to the Waterford side that had frustrated Dundalk for 93 minutes.
Alan Reynolds’ top-flight newcomers had impressed with a disciplined display, but their resistance was broken at the death when Michael Duffy’s cross that was aimed at Patrick Hoban found its way to the back net via visiting midfielder Garry Comerford to give Stephen Kenny’s men a valuable victory.
They were seconds away from being in the midst of a goalscoring crisis, as a fourth scoreless draw in six games would have set the alarm bells ringing. Instead, they move within a point of Cork City after extending their impeccable defensive start to the campaign.
Gary Rogers kept a sixth successive clean sheet on the occasion of his 500th League of Ireland appearance and he played his part too with a vital stop to deny sub John Martin from giving the Blues a smash-and-grab triumph.
It would prove hugely significant as late drama would follow.
Well-organised sides have found they can keep Dundalk at arm’s length if they do their business correctly and Waterford worked hard to maintain parity.
They came into this encounter three points ahead of the established force, a recognition of the excellent work that Reynolds has done with a savvy squad that blends experience and quality.
Crucially, he was down a few bodies with key strikers Izzy Akinade and Courtney Duffus ruled out – the latter could not be risked on the plastic pitch due to concerns about the history of his knee – but they had a solid shape which Dundalk struggled to penetrate.
In a cagey first half, they only really cut the Blues open on one occasion with a move involving Jamie McGrath, Hoban and Karolis Chvedukas concluding with the latter drawing a save from visiting stopper Lawrence Vigoroux. Otherwise, Dundalk were restricted to speculative attempts.
Chvedukas made a first league start in place of injury doubt Ronan Murray, and that was supposed to free Robbie Benson into a more advanced role.
However, Dundalk’s midfielders and lone striker Hoban were forced to drop deeper to try and get on the ball with Waterford offering little space in the final third.
Sturdy centre-halves Kenny Browne and Dave Webster minded their department well and Waterford did actually threaten on their rare forays forward with wingers Sander Puri and Derek Daly both forcing blocks from counter attacks.
Dundalk emerged at the restart with fresh purpose and a frantic 15-minute spell should have culminated with an opener.
Dane Massey missed a sitter when a Duffy shot was parried into his path, with the tempo moving up a notch.
Still, for all that Dundalk remained on top territorially, Martin’s break and a chance for Gavan Holohan served as a warning and the natives grew restless as the introduction of extra attackers Ronan Murray and Marco Tagbajumi failed to yield a reward.
Skipper Stephen O’Donnell also made a welcome return to increase the pace of passing but it was looking grim until Duffy’s late burst and cross secured the definition of a hard fought success.
DUNDALK – Rogers, Gannon, Hoare, Cleary, Massey; Shields (O’Donnell 84), Chvedukas (Murray 70); McGrath (Tagbajumi 78), Benson, Duffy; Hoban
WATERFORD – Vigoroux, Kavanagh, Browne, Webster, Barnett; Aborah (Keegan 76), Comerford; Daly, (Martin 66),
Holohan, Puri; O’Halloran
REF – R Harvey (Dublin)