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O'Donnell hits spot again to send Rovers top of table

MICHAEL O'Neill's Euro stars returned to the top of the domestic pile thanks to a 2-1 victory over Dundalk at Oriel Park on Saturday.

Goals from Billy Dennehy and another crucial penalty from Stephen O'Donnell lifted the Hoops two points clear of Derry City at the summit, but O'Neill will have been delighted by the impact of three of his debutants as Rovers continue to battle it out in three competitions.

O'Neill handed starts to Rohan Ricketts, Jim Paterson and goalkeeper Richard Brush, and two of his new faces were involved early on.

Brush had to parry a Ross Gaynor thunderbolt in the ninth minute while Ricketts set up Karl Sheppard at the other end for a shot that whistled just over the Dundalk crossbar.

A gilt-edged chance came Dundalk's way in the 18th minute. Gaynor's low centre looked set to be tapped home by Jason Byrne, but Rovers skipper Dan Murray somehow took the ball off his toe.

The home side opened the second half on the front foot and Keith Ward almost broke the deadlock with a wonderful dipping volley from 35 yards that flew just past the post.

Rovers drew first blood just shy of the hour mark. Ricketts went at Nathan Murphy before driving a ball across the six-yard box, and Dennehy was on hand to slide home from a difficult angle.

The killer second arrived in the 73rd minute. Ricketts hooked a great ball into Ciaran Kilduff's path and after the sub was pushed in the back by Carl McHugh, O'Donnell -- as in Belgrade recently -- made no mistake from the penalty spot. Mark Quigley pulled one back for Dundalk in stoppage time.

DUNDALK -- Cherrie; Madden, Hawkins, McHugh, N Murphy; Ward, Bolger, Bennett (Breen 80), Gaynor; Byrne (Griffin 63), Quigley.

SHAMROCK ROVERS -- Brush; Sullivan, Sives, Murray, Paterson; McCabe (Dennehy HT), Rice (Turner 83), O'Donnell; Ricketts; Sheppard, Twigg (Kilduff 71).

REF -- R Winter (Dublin).

Irish Independent