Spirited Hoops halt Dundalk run
Dundalk 1 Shamrock Rvs 1
This was a big point for Shamrock Rovers and an even bigger one for Cork City. Dundalk dropped points on their return to league business in a game where the bare facts followed the same path as their famous draw in Alkmaar last Thursday.
Specifically, the concession of a poor goal was followed by a set-piece leveller to ensure a share of the spoils.
This time, there was no cause for celebration. Stephen Kenny's charges were expected to take full points from the visit of a youthful Shamrock Rovers outfit that had shipped a total of eight goals to Cork in their last two outings.
They fought hard for Stephen Bradley here, and this gives them the platform to challenge for third spot.
Dundalk now know that nothing less than three points will do from Friday's visit of Derry City.
Otherwise, they will have handed the title initiative right back to Cork who are now five points behind with a game in hand.
Bradley still thinks that the Louth side are the superior operation. "For me they're the best team in the league by a long way," he said. "Maybe they were a bit flat at times but they've had a lot of games. But they are the benchmark."
Dundalk were heralded for their European exploits as they entered the pitch and they started like a team that was determined to bring the good vibes from Holland into this fixture.
Instead, they found themselves behind at the break after a moment to forget for Gary Rogers.
He botched what Kenny called an 'ambitious' backpass from Andy Boyle with a dreadful touch taking the ball away from him and into the path of the grateful Gary Shaw who converted.
That came just after the half hour mark, just as Rovers began to gain a foothold in the match.
Dundalk had dominated the early minutes, although their momentum was checked somewhat by a rash tackle from youngster Sean Boyd on Daryl Horgan that could easily have resulted in a red card.
His dangerous challenge resulted in a yellow but, fortunately, Horgan escaped injury when it initially looked grim.
He had helped to create an early chance for Sean Gannon and was prominent towards the interval as the hosts ploughed bodies forward in search of an equaliser. Patrick McEleney came closest with a left-footer that smashed off the woodwork.
Rovers were opened up on a couple of occasions when Dane Massey ventured forward to overlap, yet a makeshift side - with regular right full-back Simon Madden on the left - did have experience in valuable areas with Stephen McPhail and David Webster manning the engine room efficiently. "We responded well to a tough week," said Bradley.
Kenny looked to address the situation with some half-time surgery. John Mountney was summoned for Benson with the champions seeking greater energy and physicality in the final third.
The strong running of lone striker Dave McMillan up front was also as an outlet and they restored parity when he was fouled by Rob Cornwall.
It was a questionable call off the back of some persistent fouls and McEleney's inviting delivery was firmly dispatched by the head of Brian Gartland.
That set up a half an hour which mainly consisted of Dundalk pressure.
Kenny has gone public on his dissatisfaction with the number of penalties that Cork have been awarded - including the winner in Donegal on Monday night - and he was unhappy when Massey was booked for diving in the box when he did appear to be pushed by Webster.
"They (Cork) have 11 and we have three," said Kenny, "The disparity is a strange one to comprehend."
Aside from that, though, Dundalk were restricted to dead-ball situations with Rovers defending manfully and also running down the clock when necessary in a game packed with stoppages.
There was another delay when Bradley was sent to the stands for kicking the ball away when it came his direction in the midst of a heated exchange.
With three minutes to go, Dundalk did call Barry Murphy into action when an intelligent right-footer from Horgan drew a fingertip save.
And the visiting netminder was inspired again at the death as, remarkably, the match officials produced a board showing eight minutes of added time.
Dundalk nearly grabbed the winner at the very end when a frantic scramble included a goalline clearance from Webster and a close-range stop from Murphy to deny sub Dean Shiels.
"We just didn't take our chances," sighed Kenny. "That's why we didn't win."
Dundalk - Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O'Donnell, Finn (Shiels 87); McEleney, Benson (Mountney 45), Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 76).
Shamrock Rovers - Murphy, Hanney (O'Connor 82), Cornwall,Heaney, Madden; Webster, McPhail; Clarke, Shaw (Cregg 70), McCabe; Boyd (Dobbs 82.)
Ref - R Rogers