Dundalk move clear after Kilduff sinks Saints
Dundalk 2-0 St Pat's Athletic
Dundalk made a 'Killer' return from the mid-season break as they increased their advantage at the top of the SSE Airtricity League table to three points thanks to a 2-0 win over St Patrick's Athletic at Oriel Park.
Ciaran Kilduff, who this time 12 months ago was employed by the Inchicore club, played a big part in his old club's downfall last night, scoring the first after 73 minutes and having a big influence in Ronan Finn's insurance goal eight minutes later.
It looked like the league champions would be left frustrated by a dogged Saints display but, as they have shown time and time again over the past couple of seasons, Stephen Kenny's side often go right to the wire and this result, coupled with Cork City's 0-0 draw with Shamrock Rovers, extends their lead at the summit to three points.
The Lilywhites spent part of the mid-season break based at a training camp in Portugal where they will no doubt have held an inquest into their 1-0 defeat against Cork City three weeks ago - a result that left their advantage going into the break down to just a solitary point.
Chris Shields served the first game of a suspension following his red card in Turner's Cross while Shane Grimes came in for Dane Massey at left-back, the local defender making his first league start since last October.
Elsewhere, Kenny was able to name Stephen O'Donnell and Patrick McEleney in his starting XI, both having benefited from some intense training sessions in the Algarve sun.
Pat's, who went into the break on the back of two Dublin derby defeats to Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers, arrived at the border venue sitting 14 points behind the champions.
Top scorer Christy Fagan, who was withdrawn in that 2-0 defeat to Rovers in Tallaght, was only named amongst the substitutes with youngster Jamie McGrath tasked with leading the line for the Saints.
It took just 55 seconds before the crowd were given a first glimpse of referee Derek Tomney's vanishing spray, a new addition to the League over the mid-season break.
It proved to be one of the highlights of a drab first half as both sets of players struggled to get back into their rhythm. The exception, however, was McEleney, who caught the eye with an impressive display.
The former Derry City man has endured a stop-start season but he looked back to his best in the first half, almost prising open the Pat's back four in the 13th minute.
His incisive pass found Sean Gannon behind enemy lines, but the full-back's dangerous low cross into the six-yard box was hacked behind by the well-placed Sean Hoare.
McEleney continued to look sprightly and a swift turn away from Graham Kelly three minutes later ended with the Pat's midfielder cynically hauling him down to find his way into Tomney's notebook.
Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers was relatively underemployed for much of the half but he was given a huge fright in the 20th minute when Conan Byrne attempted the spectacular from the halfway line, the Lilywhites netminder adjusting his feet well to get back and tip the ball to safety.
The vanishing spray then took centre stage in the 27th minute with referee Tomney ordering a wasted Pat's free-kick to be retaken because he hadn't finished marking the pitch. It was a decision that didn't sit well with the home players and their supporters. Thankfully for the official, the second attempt came to nothing.
The hosts huffed and puffed approaching the interval without ever really looking like blowing the Pat's house down. The closest they came was in the 34th minute when McEleney tested Clarke for the first time, his swerving right-footed effort parried by the goalkeeper with the loose ball just evading the incoming Ciaran Kilduff.
Things improved considerably after the break with Pat's looking inventive going forward with Conan Byrne, in particular, offering penetration on the right flank.
The best opening, though, came Dundalk's way in the 63rd minute. Ronan Finn did well to flick the ball into the path of Daryl Horgan on the left. The winger made a beeline for the Pat's penalty area but he could only flash his effort wildly over the top. The vital goal arrived ten minutes later. Again, McEleney was the instigator, holding the ball up well on the left of the penalty area to caress a low ball across the face of goal which Kilduff dispatched from five yards.
Stephen Kenny's side put the result beyond doubt with nine minutes left to play.
Kilduff rose to meet a deep cross by John Mountney only to head against the woodwork but Finn was there to tap the loose ball into an empty net.
Dundalk - Rogers; Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Grimes; Finn, O'Donnell, Mountney, McEleney (Benson 77), Horgan (Meenan 90); Kilduff (McMillan 82).
St Patrick's Athletic - Clarke; O'Brien, Dennehy, Hoare, Bermingham; Kelly (Cawley 73), Verdon; Byrne, Dennehy, Timlin (Markey 82); McGrath (Fagan 74).
Ref - D Tomney