Robbie Benson sees red for Dundalk as Shamrock Rovers return to winning ways
Dundalk 0 Shamrock Rovers 4
Fans of horse racing know that Fridays at Dundalk can be confusing and this was a night where course and distance form went out the window as Shamrock Rovers ended their winless run in emphatic fashion.
Oriel Park has not been a happy hunting ground for Stephen Bradley.
Prior to this trip, their only victory there in the last four-and-a-half years came when Dundalk fielded a second-string side while distracted by European engagements in a chaotic 2020. This was a hell of a way to erase some bad memories and deliver badly needed momentum to their four-in-a-row mission.
Dundalk will argue the outcome should come with an asterisk, given they operated with ten men for two-thirds of this game after a first career red for Robbie Benson, a player who usually torments the Hoops. He has scored eight goals against Rovers in Dundalk colours so the contrast in emotions was dramatic here.
It’s always a big night in Dundalk when Shamrock Rovers visit, but local optimism levels were dented by the team news announcement which revealed that Patrick Hoban was out with a hamstring injury.
Dundalk’s form fell off a cliff when Hoban sustained an injury at a key point last term and his reputation is certainly enhanced by results in his absence. His replacement, John Martin, has big boots to fill and a glaring first-half miss with just Alan Mannus to beat served as another reminder of what Stephen O’Donnell was missing.
His side were already a goal behind at that point, with the Hoops breakthrough goal a reflection of how they were switched on. Gary O’Neill anticipated a pass from Dundalk right full-back Archie Davies to set the wheels in motion for a move that culminated with the latter struggling to find his bearings as Rory Gaffney spun away to the back post to convert Daniel Cleary’s cross.
Martin’s miss was followed by the key moment of the evening, a red card for Benson for a high challenge on Lee Grace. It happened straight in front of the Rovers bench, which amplified Hoops’ concerns, but ref Arnold Hunter made a quick decision. Benson was travelling at pace and his boot was high but the Dundalk camp were furious at the decision because Grace's leg was raised too.
After starting the season with dismissals in back-to-back games that cost them, Rovers enjoyed the novelty of being on the other side and they cut the Lilywhites open at will in response.
Yet it will frustrate O’Donnell that the second goal came from a corner with Grace in the right place after Gaffney overpowered Martin. Gaffney and Richie Towell could have added to their advantage and there wasn’t any evidence to suggest the second half would be stressful for Bradley’s charges.
Dundalk did have a good spell after the restart but they never threatened and Rovers began to find space with the locals living on the edge before Johnny Kenny, buoyed by a debut goal for the Irish U-21s, nodded home Towell’s cross.
Both managers emptied their bench with the sense it was game over and Graham Burke added a fourth to send Rovers towards next Friday’s derby in Dalymount in good spirits.
Dundalk: Sheppard, Davies, Williams, Boyle, Leahy (McCourt 79); Sloggett, Lewis (Yli Kokko 68); Benson, Malley (Ward 75), Tulloch (O’Kane 68); Martin (Kelly 75).
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus, Cleary, Hoare, Grace; Farrugia (Nugent 74), Towell, O’Neill, Kavanagh (Watts 78); Byrne (Poom 59), Gaffney (Burke 74); Kenny (Greene 74).
Referee: Arnold Hunter.