Dundalk get party started as they all but seal the title
Stephen Kenny’s side nine points clear of Cork City with massive goal difference advantage
Dundalk players celebrate after beating Derry City in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division game at Oriel Park. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Dundalk 3 Derry City 2
Human nature being what it is there must have been those down in Cork still hoping for a miracle in the wake of Friday night’s defeat at Turner’s Cross. Perhaps a few still are although Derry City ultimately proved incapable of helping anyone down that way keep the faith.
Stephen Kenny’s side enjoyed a nine-point and 24-goal advantage over their rivals as they prepared to face opponents against whom they had twice scored four times this season.
There was the obligatory talk beforehand of professionals still having a job to do but the slightly carefree nature of some of the football they played certainly suggested they knew the title was already well beyond blowing. If there was any doubt there is none now and the players allowed themselves a bit of a celebration at the end here.
Stephen Kenny made three changes from the side that won in Cork, the “heroes of Turner’s Cross” as they were introduced here, but everyone out on the field had that spring in their step. The confidence with which Chris Shields shifted gears to glide past opponents brought approving noises from the stand and Michael Duffy was in flying form.
Two promising crosses from play were cut out well before they reached Pat Hoban but an attempt at a third led to a throw-in, then a free that Duffy floated in for Daniel Cleary to head home almost unchallenged. The winger then fed Pat McEleney for a rather more spectacular second.
After a steady stream of near misses from several players in white, Hoban took matters into his own hands with the 27-year-old turning well and making space to tee up a shot where, moments earlier, he had not appeared to pose much danger. Ger Doherty was helpless as the shot that followed flashed across and beyond him for the striker’s 25th goal of the season.
Doherty, to be fair, looked equally doomed 12 minutes into the second period when Hoban met a McEleney cross with a powerful header that wrong-footed him badly but this time the keeper still managed to make a brilliant save.
Some of the sparkle went out of the home side after that. With an eye on Friday’s cup semi-final, Kenny replaced both McEleney and John Mountney and as the hosts took their foot off the pedal, City embarked on what was a much better spell for them.
It quickly yielded one goal born out of a terrific through pass by Aaron Splaine for Aidy Delap whose close range shot was saved by Rogers only for Dean Jarvis to inadvertently turn the ball into his own net. Then, late on, when Dean Shiels sent Ben Fisk through to grab an unlikely second, the scramble to retrieve the ball and get the game restarted suggested that the visitors still retained hope of a point.
It was not, one presumes, McHattie getting sent off for, the referee decided, denying Dylan Connolly a clear goal-scoring opportunity in the final moments. Nobody, though, ever wants to accept their race is run until their rivals finally get over the line.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Cleary, Hoare, Jarvis; McEleney (Murray, 62), Shields; Mountney (Connolly, 62), McGrath, Duffy; Hoban (Kelly, 86). DERRY CITY: Doherty; McDonagh, Toal, Cole, McHattie; Splaine, McEneff (Shiels, half-time); Delap (Fisk, 84), Rory Hale, Roy (Low, half-time); Ronan Hale.
Referee: P McLaughlin (Monaghan)