Drogheda United 1 Dundalk 2
If Dundalk’s first priority here was to put a bit of distance between them and their title rivals before turning their attention to the lucrative business of the Champions League qualifier, then they must also have hoped to send a bit of a message to BATE Borisov, the side they will face during the week after next.
It was a case of mission accomplished on the first front due to a late deflected free by John Mountney but it is hard to imagine that Aliaksei Baha, the coach sent on a scouting mission by the Belarussians will have been overly alarmed by what he saw during the previous 90 minutes.
Stephen Kenny's side had the better of the game throughout and dominated as they chased that two extra points in the closing stages, but United caused them plenty of problems with Lee Duffy, in particular, giving Brian Gartland a deeply uncomfortably evening.
The striker should have scored in the first half but he did get the home side’s second-half equaliser shortly after being sent clear by Seán Brennan who made the most of another bout of uncertainty in the central part of Dundalk’s back four. Baha, one assumes, will have been encouraged.
If he stayed until the end, he may have been more impressed by the attacking side of Dundalk’s game, with just about every member of the visiting side chipping in as they chased a winner with a growing sense of urgency – though never it seemed, to their credit, any real sense of desperation.
Darren Meenan had scored their first after 55 minutes with a well struck drive that flew into the bottom right-hand corner after an initial attempt on goal by David McMillan had been well saved by Michael Schlingermann, then scrambled away but not quite to safety.
At that point it seemed almost certain that the league leaders would settle into their stride and exploit the space that United would be forced to leave as they sought to start venturing forward in search of the equaliser they suddenly needed, Instead, they scored almost immediately and Dundalk found themselves having to start all over again.
Johnny McDonnell had suggested beforehand that the home side had a game-plan they felt could make life difficult for the champions. It was no great surprise really and a sizeable element of it seemed to consist of getting 10 men behind the ball every time the visitors looked set to pose a significant threat.
That, the locals' generally solid defending of set pieces and the tight pitch all certainly contributed to Dundalk's frustration over the opening half but they had they lacked a bit of their usual spark too. Daryl Horgan only really caught the eye when he was getting back to foul one of Drogheda's frontmen and Richie Towell managed just once in the opening hour or so to produce the sort of pass that splits open an opposition defence and on that occasion Schlingermann was off his line to smother Meenan's shot.
When the goalkeeper did rather less well, Brennan was on hand to clear David McMillan's close range shot off the line and as the half drew to a close, a Dane Massey free that had been deflected by the wall onto the left-hand post went down as the closest the visitors had come to a breakthrough.
After the exchange of goals, they created a succession of chances. Kenny's men steadily upped the tempo and Ronan Finn, Seán Gannon and Towell all might have put them back in front.
When McMillan had what looked a clearcut penalty claim waived away they might have started to think it wasn’t going to be their night but they stuck with it. They still needed a slice of luck as Mountney’s low driven free took a big deflection off Meenan to leave Schlingermann helpless, the home side beaten and the chasing pack now six points behind.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Schlingermann; Daly, Byrne, O’Reilly, Gorman; Brady (Mulvenna, 77 mins), Maher, Thorntan, Marks; Brennan (Daly, 85 mins); Duffy.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Towell, O’Donnell; Meenan, Finn (Byrne, 81 mins), Horgan (Shields, 90 mins); McMillan (Mountney, 85 mins)
Referee: D McKeon (Dublin).