Injury blows and stubborn Sligo resistance make it a frustrating start to the season for champions Dundalk
Dundalk 1 Sligo Rovers 1
THE fact that Dundalk started last season with a scoreless draw against a Bray Wanderers team that went on to concede 96 across the campaign was mentioned more than once in the aftermath of this opening-day surprise.
But a winter of change at Oriel Park means that every setback will be analysed.
They had the reassuring presence of Stephen Kenny on the sideline this time last year, whereas new boss Vinny Perth has to prove his own ability now.
His opening night didn’t go to plan. The result is one thing; the performance could have yielded a victory on another day with Liam Buckley’s Sligo Rovers on the defensive for the bulk of this encounter.
However, the real downer for the natives was the loss of Robbie Benson and Patrick McEleney to injuries that could send the champions back into recruitment mode before next Friday’s deadline. Oldham defender Cameron Dummigan was signed earlier in the day.
With so much riding on this year, domestically and in Europe, Dundalk will leave nothing to chance.
Sligo Rovers would love to have their squad depth, and the travelling support celebrated this point because a shortage of bodies has been a feature of their pre-season preparations. This is something for Buckley to build on.
Dundalk had dominated for most of the first half and yet found themselves behind at the break.
It had all started so well. Local spirits were high in the fifth minute when Benson capitalised on a ponderous moment from new Sligo Rovers signing Dante Leverock, dispossessing the Bermudan and scampering into the box where he was taken down by Bit’O’Red goalkeeper Ed McGinty in his attempt to skip free.
The celebrations following the penalty award were short-lived as it became apparent that Benson was in a bit of bother and he was carried off on a stretcher following a five-minute delay. A long period on the sidelines would rob Dundalk of considerable knowhow.
The stoppage gave Patrick Hoban a bit of time to think about what he was going to do, but McGinty had saved a spot kick from Dundalk’s leading attacker here last October and repeated the feat by guessing right after the Galwegian’s stuttered run-up.
Benson’s enforced exit meant a league debut for winter recruit Sean Murray way ahead of schedule.
There was a natural lull for a time, with the injury halting momentum, until Dundalk got into their groove again.
Murray was involved in two clear-cut goal-scoring chances, heading over the bar from a Massey cross before his own pinpoint delivery found Hoban who forced a fine save from the buoyant McGinty.
With McEleney looking sharp in midfield, the visitors were on the rocks with Leverock enduring some shaky moments with his centre-half partner John Mahon actually a steadying influence through a sticky patch. He’s a name to note.
Seeing it out until the interval would have represented an achievement for the guests.
They went a step further when Chris Shields felled Liam Kerrigan with a clumsy challenge.
With the assistance of the wind, Jack Keaney took aim and beat Gary Rogers at his near post. The veteran will know he should have done much better.
Dundalk resumed with purpose, however, and levelled before Buckley’s charges could take a breather. John Mountney steered a cross towards Hoban and he set it for the inrushing Murray with his right-footer far too good for McGinty. With the elements technically favouring Dundalk, this should have given them the onus to push on although the carry resulted in some overhit passes and it actually was a hindrance when it came to putting together flowing passages of play.
They were comfortably the better side, yet Sligo defended their area reasonably well which meant that the better home opportunities came courtesy of shots from the edge of the box.
Murray, Hoban and Sean Gannon were all just marginally off target.
Buckley is not renowned as a manager who comes looking for a draw, but the circumstances of the game meant they had to defend for dear life.
Jamaican attacker Romeo Parkes did squander an opening from a counter. That was a rare break from pressure, though.
The locals grew edgy as the minutes ticked by and when McEleney hobbled off then the anxiety levels grew. Perth sprung in Georgie Kelly as support for Hoban and hoped for the best. But Sligo shut up shop on a night when Dundalk injuries will likely send them back into the market.
Dundalk – Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson (Murray 11); Mountney (D Kelly 74), McEleney (G Kelly 83), Duffy; Hoban
Sligo Rovers – McGinty, Dunleavy, Leverock, Mahon, Donelon; Keaney, Callan-McFadden; Twardek, Fordyce (Morahan 83), Kerrigan (Coughlan 86); Parkes
Ref – R Harvey (Dublin)