Sunday 19 January 2020

Horror for Kevin Horgan as Dundalk hit summit in the Airtricity League

Dundalk 2 Shamrock Rovers 1

Dane Massey, left, and Michael Duffy of Dundalk celebrate their side's first goal
Dane Massey, left, and Michael Duffy of Dundalk celebrate their side's first goal

Gavin McLaughlin

SHAMROCK ROVERS’ goalkeeping frailties were exposed again at Oriel Park as Dundalk moved to the summit for the first time this season.

One-nil down thank to Robbie Benson’s 52nd-minute opener, Stephen Bradley’s side were left with it all to do when Chris Shields’ low cross from the right skipped past everybody, including Rovers goalkeeper Kevin Horgan, before bouncing in via the post.

Daniel Carr’s goal gave them hope with 14 minutes to play but the Hoops just couldn’t recover from the blow and this defeat means they have now been beaten on their travels by the three sides that sit above them in the table, Dundalk, Cork City and Waterford. A first title since 2011 looks further away than ever.

With SWAI Player of the Month nominee Gary Rogers injured, Gabriel Sava was handed the task of trying to keep clean sheet No 9 for Dundalk and equal the League of Ireland record set by Sligo Rovers back in 2011.

Making just his 11th start for the club since joining in 2014, Sava should really have been tested after Rovers opened Dundalk up in the seventh minute. Ronan Finn’s superb cross from the right found Sean Kavanagh in space at the back stick but he rushed things and his effort flew across goal and wide.

Dundalk winger Michael Duffy and Hoops attacker Graham Burke are also on the shortlist for the monthly award and both started here.

Duffy didn’t take long to affect things, opening his legs with less than 60 seconds played but Lee Grace got across to throw himself in the way of Patrick Hoban’s effort from the subsequent pass.

This fixture has simmered in recent years so it was no surprise to see Benson have a little bite at former team-mate Finn in the early stages. The Rovers captain was far from happy but he got back to business and had alarm bells ringing in the Lilywhites defence again in the 12th minute.

Picked out by Greg Bolger’s incisive pass, he tore through the heart of the Dundalk back four and skipped around Sava only to have the ball taken off his toe by the covering Sean Gannon, who was there to hack the ball just wide of his own post.

Play was called to a halt momentarily after a flare was thrown onto the pitch by the visiting supporters. When things restarted, Dundalk had their first real opening, with the incoming Jamie McGrath unable to stretch and divert home a devilish Michael Duffy cross.

With Joe Coustrain leaving his full-back isolated, Duffy started to really stretch Boyle after that and the Derry man worked his magic in the 26th minute, setting up Hoban only to see the striker’s cute effort kiss the top of the bar.

It was very much even Stevens between then and the break, with Kavanagh having a goal ruled out for offside, while the hosts were denied by the woodwork again just before the interval.

It was the result of a flowing move which started with Hoban sending Gannon away on the right. He tore past Kavanagh to whip over an inch-perfect cross but Duffy’s downward header came back off the butt of the post.

The second half was in its infancy when the natives started to become restless after Dundalk tried to play their way out from the back. Kenny’s side persevered and the anxiety was replaced by euphoria as they made the breakthrough in the 52nd minute.

Benson started and finished the move, breaking past Bolger before sliding a great pass into the inside left channel for Hoban to hit. Horgan parried but it wasn’t enough as Benson continued his run to bundle home the loose ball.

If that goal was the result of craft, the second was an absolute calamity for Horgan.

Reintroduced for Toner Chencinski last week, the 20-yearold watched on as Shields claimed his first league goal since 2013 in bizarre fashion.

Rovers set up a grandstand finish when Carr punctured the Dundalk backline for the first time this season, glancing a Brandon Miele corner home with 16 minutes left.

They continued to push and were within a lick of paint of taking a point when Graham Burke saw a half-volley touched onto the bar by Sava.

A tense ending ensued for the natives but Stephen Kenny’ side held on for a big win.

DUNDALK – Sava; Gannon, Cleary, Folan, Massey; Shields, Benson; McGrath (O’Donnell 76), Adorjan (Mountney 64), Duffy; Hoban (Tagbajumi 82).

SHAMROCK ROVERS – Horgan; Boyle, Lopes, Grace, Byrne (Miele 67); G Bolger, Finn; Coustrain (Shaw 74), Burke, Kavanagh; Carr.

REFEREE – D Tomney.

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