Hoban helps Dundalk see off Sligo as Stephen Kenny’s side again show their title credentials
Important victory keeps Dundalk in touch with leaders St Pat’s
Dundalk 2 Sligo Rovers 0
It has been a while since they enjoyed nights like this on a regular basis at Oriel Park. Big Crowds watching big wins and relishing the sense that “the Town” is firmly back on the footballing map.
Two weeks ago the locals went home happy after Shamrock Rovers were beaten, this time they nearly raised the roof as the champions were sent home empty-handed. Dundalk now hold a six-point advantage over their rivals and are starting to make this look like a two -horse race to the title.
Patrick Hoban’s goals have been a key element in the team’s resurgence under Stephen Kenny and he got the first here during a first half the Lillywhites lumbered through.
Their performance in the second half cemented their claim to be title challengers, however, with the likes of Richie Towell, Darren Meenan and Stephen O’Donnell all playing significant roles as the visitors were simply blown away.
Both of the previous games between these two had been won by the away side and, while Dundalk led this time after 15 minutes, Rovers looked to be executing their game plan slightly more effectively over the course of a scrappy first half.
In every area of the pitch they chased down their opponents, refusing to let them settle on the ball or play the sort of neat passing game on which they have thrived this season under Kenny. The pitch didn’t help the hosts who consistently struggled to control the ball without a second touch and they were routinely reduced to getting rid of it quickly, sometimes to team-mates who found themselves in a similar position, sometimes by simply hoofing it upfield towards Hoban.
The striker got precious little to work with early on and most wouldn’t have counted the header in his direction by Richie Towell as constituting even a half chance. But the 22-year-old is bursting with confidence these days and at full stretch attempted an unlikely overhead flick which he pulled off quite brilliantly to bag his sixth goal in as many games.
For the half hour that followed he was largely left to wander alone looking hopefully at his team-mates behind him as they sought to cope with a Sligo midfield that looked hungrier for possession.
Up front, though, Anthony Elding was anonymous and the visiting team’s three most notable chances all came courtesy of Gavin Peers headers, the best of which clipped the top of the crossbar on the way over.
After the break, though, things changed. Kenny’s men began making better use of the ball and it was they, through the opening 10 minutes who looked by far the more likely to get the game’s important next goal.
It came after an intense spell of pressure during which Rovers generally scraped by. There were a couple of half chances before Chris Shields marked his arrival into the game by retrieving a ball quite brilliantly that he had lost and then starting a move that ended with Kurtis Byrne’s cross flying just beyond the striker’s outstretched leg.
Towell, after a terrific move that also involved Mark Rossiter, then forced Gary Rogers into his best save of the night. It gave Dundalk the first of three corners in quick succession and after the third came back to its taker, Darren Meenan, on the edge of the area, he sent in a floated cross that Shields rose high to turn home.
Rovers, inspired by the impressive Kieran Djilali, rallied to some extent and were unfortunate when Raffaele Cretaro’s close range shot came crashing back off the post, hit Peter Cherrie in the back but bounced harmlessly wide.
The locals had recovered their stride, though, and the 3,000-plus attendance cheered their heroes at the finish.
DUNDALK: Cherrie; Rossiter, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Towell, O’Donnell; Dillon (Shields, 52 mins), Byrne (Sullivan, 88 mins), Meenan; Hoban (Faherty, 90 mins).
SLIGO ROVERS: Rogers; Keane, Peers, Henderson, Greene; Ndo; Cretaro (Lynch, 81 mins), Conneely (North, 64 mins), Cawley, Djilali; Elding.
Referee: N Doyle (Dublin).