Dundalk take slender lead with Shamrock Rovers draw
Homeside let off the hook when Ryan Brennan fired a late penalty over the bar
Dundalk’s Kurtis Byrne (right) with Simon Madden of Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park. Phpotograph: Morgan Treacy / Inpho
Dundalk moved a point clear of Cork City at the top of the SSE Airtricity League table after a scoreless draw with Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park tonight.
The result means the title race will go to the last day of the season if Cork City can match Dundalk’s result against Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds this Friday.
A dramatic night ended with controversy at both ends. Dundalk’s title hopes looked to have suffered a serious blow when Rovers were awarded a penalty in the 76th minute. Ryan Brennan stepped up but his effort flew over the wall at the town end goal. The groans could be heard as loudly in Cork as they were on the Rovers bench.
Dundalk thought they had a penalty of their own in the first minute of stoppage time when Stephen O’Donnell broke into the box and tried to lift the ball over Simon Madden. The former Dundalk player appeared to direct the ball away with his hand but referee Rob Rogers thought nothing of it.
This was the eighth meeting between the sides this season and it was clear to see they were very overly familiar with each other.
As was the case in the last meeting - the EA Sports Cup final, it was Pat Fenlon’s side who would have been the happier going into the dressing rooms. The Hoops left Dundalk frustrated for much of the opening 45 minutes with the anxiety palpable amongst the home support.
A bright start by the hosts, which saw Kurtis Byrne shoot just over from a Darren Meenan cross, proved to be a false dawn as the visitors wrestled control of the game without ever really threatening to breach the Dundalk defence.
The bright spots for Dundalk came from the wide areas with Meenan and Horgan carrying a threat whenever they got into advanced positions. It was the former Cork City winger who gave the home crowd some encouragement as the half wore on, testing Barry Murphy to the goalkeeper’s right after Dane Massey had forced his way through on the left.
The best chance of the half also fell Horgan’s way, five minutes before the interval. Slipped in by Richie Towell, the Galway native found himself in between the Rovers centre-backs but he dragged his shot well wide.
The struggle to gain the upper hand continued in the early stages of the second-half but Dundalk showed fleeting signs that they were beginning to get up and running and Hoban headed a Meenan corner over the top in the 54th minute.
The crowd were given a further lift 15 minutes later when Kenny introduced O’Donnell from the bench, the 28-year-old making his first appearance at Oriel Park since suffering a horrendous knee injury in the corresponding fixture on Good Friday.
The tension intensified as the game approached the final 20 minutes and Oriel Park was stunned into silence when Rovers were awarded a penalty with 14 minutes remaining. Brennan slipped Karl Sheppard in on goal and referee Rogers was correct to point to the spot when the striker was taken down by a rash Peter Cherrie tackle. Brennan, though, ballooned his effort over the top to give Dundalk a reprieve.
O’Donnell flashed an effort agonisingly wide from a Meenan cross as the home side looked for a late winner and Rogers was at the centre of controversy in stoppage time, failing to award a Dundalk penalty when Madden looked to have clearly handled in the area before sending Patrick Cregg off for a second bookable offence.
Dundalk FC: Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields (Higgins 73), Towell; Meenan, Byrne (O’Donnell 59), Horgan (Griffin 83); Hoban. Booked: Massey (34), Cherrie (76).
Shamrock Rovers: Murphy; Madden, Kenna, McGuinness, Byrne; McPhail, Brennan (Bayly 90+2), Cregg; McCabe (Sheppard 67), Kilduff, Watters (Kelly 86).
Referee: Rob Rogers.