O'Donnell strikes late to maintain Dundalk title push
Dundalk 1 Drogheda Utd 0
STEPHEN O'DONNELL was Dundalk's captain fantastic as he hit an 88th-minute winner in a tense Louth derby at Oriel Park to move the Lilywhites level with St Patrick's Athletic at the top of the table.
O'Donnell pounced on a mistake by Drogs centre-back Alan McNally to casually roll the ball past Michael Schlingermann to give Stephen Kenny's side a precious three points that their performance barely deserved.
All roads now lead to Inchicore on Friday, September 20 when the top two will meet at Richmond Park in a game that will play a significant part in determining the outcome of the 2013 Airtricity League title.
And speaking afterwards, O'Donnell, a two-time title winner with Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers, said he was hoping the win would prove vital come the end of the season.
"It was great to get three points out of this one because it was a game that we didn't really play well in," he said.
"It means we go to St Pat's in two weeks level pegging rather than knowing we need to win."
A minute's applause was held before kick-off in memory of the loyal and well-known Dundalk supporter, Marty Shields, who passed away in the early hours of Sunday morning. Marty was given a raucous send-off, but there was little else for the Oriel faithful to shout about as they endured a frustrating opening 45 minutes.
It was Mick Cooke's side who controlled the first half as the occasion, and what was at stake, seemed to leave the home side – and their supporters – riddled with anxiety. Kenny's side, so free-flowing in recent weeks, were barely able to put a move of note together and every mistake drew groans of anxiety from the crowd.
Their clearest opening of the half came after just 97 seconds. O'Donnell flashed a wicked ball from the left across the face of goal but Pat Hoban just couldn't extend himself enough to prod the ball home.
The Drogs, with Alan Byrne marshalling the middle of the park brilliantly, grew in stature and a brilliant Gavin Brennan cross early on drew a full-length save from Peter Cherrie before David Cassidy fired over from distance.
Cassidy, one of five former Dundalk players in the Drogs XI, was involved again on the half hour, positioning himself in a dangerous area to receive Declan O'Brien's cutback only for O'Donnell to block his effort.
The visitors continued to ask all the questions and, after three corners in as many minutes, they thought they had pulled ahead 10 minutes before the break. Cassidy's corner from the left cleared Cherrie and was bundled home at the far post by Mick Daly but referee Alan Kelly saw an infringement and ruled the goal out.
It was the Boynesiders who looked potent going forward again at the start of the second half and Cherrie had to be sharp to tip a goalbound O'Brien header over from Mick Daly's hooked cross.
The home side were living on their nerves again in the 78th minute. Cassidy's free-kick from the left fell to Byrne at the back post but, with Cherrie in no man's land, he hesitated before scooping the ball over the top.
It looked like the Drogs would leave their neighbours rueing a missed opportunity but O'Donnell popped up to dispossess the otherwise excellent McNally to send the home supporters into raptures.
There was still time for late drama as Dundalk finished the game with 10 men after Chris Shields was sent off for a second bookable offence in stoppage time, but they held on for what could be a defining victory.
Dundalk – Cherrie; Rossiter, Boyle, Shields, Massey; Meenan (Sullivan 90), Towell, O'Donnell, Mountney (McCaffrey 37), Mulvenna (Dillon 37); Hoban.
Drogheda United – Schlingermann; Daly (O'Neil 89), Prendergast, McNally, Grimes; Brady (O'Conor 68), Byrne, R Brennan, Cassidy, G Brennan; O'Brien.
Ref – A Kelly (Cork)