Shamrock Rovers refuse to roll over for Dundalk this time
Champions respond as they face frantic run of fixtures with a five point lead at top
Dundalk’s Robbie Benson with David Webster and Stephen McPhail of Rovers. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
The talk from Stephen Bradley since his Shamrock Rovers side suffered a record FAI Cup defeat a couple of weeks ago had all been about his players showing pride in and passion for the shirt. He would surely, as they say, have taken this, a blood and guts display if ever there was one, beforehand.
The Dubliners battled Dundalk for every inch of ground, earned their draw and did Cork City another favour into the bargain . . . the rest of us too, perhaps, because this title race looks nicely set up now. Stephen Kenny’s side now face into a further frantic run of fixtures with a five-point lead over their rivals who have a game in hand and, tantalisingly, a game at Oriel still to play. Resolve After having conceded eight without reply in the Tallaght and Cork’s Turner’s Cross, Rovers toughened up immeasurably here with Dave Webster sending out one of those early messages about his side’s intentions in the opening minute.
It took the form of a meaningless foul on Robbie Benson that left the former UCD midfielder looking a little bewildered but the succession of tough challenges that followed left little room for doubt; the visitors had not come to be quite so easily beaten again.
For a short while at least, it seemed they might even win it with Gary Shaw giving Rovers a first-half lead but the champions battled their way back level thanks to Brian Gartland’s close-ranger header and though there was great character about the way they chased a winner, they were relentlessly held at bay. Barry Murphy made two great late saves to keep his side on terms.
Webster, who personified Rovers’ new-found determination, was outstanding but it took a dramatic improvement in almost every department to hang on until the end for their point. The manager got into the spirit of things himself towards the end by getting sent to the stands but his side successfully rode their luck with the referee and Dane Massey, in particular, will feel aggrieved after getting a yellow card for diving inside the area when Webster made enough contact to make it look more like a penalty.
Still, at least Dundalk got something from it. At half-time it had not looked good for the champions. If they could take some encouragement from the number of chances they had been creating up until the break, their finishing had repeatedly come up short with Benson, Daryl Horgan, Pat McEleney and David McMillan all managing to waste shooting opportunities by directing their attempts straight at Murphy.
Rovers, on the other hand, even before they actually scored, forced a decent save from Gary Rogers when Shane Hanney’s cross was turned towards the bottom corner by Seán Boyd while Webster would most likely have got a memorable second for his side moments after they had taken the lead if only his chest high drive from 20 metres been slightly better placed.
That was not an issue for their goal at all with Rogers making a terrible mess of his attempt to control a testing back pass from Andy Boyle. The upshot Gary Shaw had only to keep his head and turn the ball into an empty net from 10 yards or so. He did it perfectly and even before the ball had hit the back of the net, the recriminations had started amongst the locals. Dundalk response They got on with it, though, and with McMillan, McEleney, who hit the post, and Benson, whose headed followed up to that shot was turned wide, all going close before the break there was a sense Rovers were going to have to work very hard to hold on to their lead.
Kenny successfully increased the pressure by replacing Benson with John Mountney and switching the increasingly influential McEleney into the centre while Ronan Finn pushed forward more leaving Stephen O’Donnell as the sole holding midfielder.
The visitors sought to maintain the physical presence they had had early on but now they mainly succeeded in conceding frees in dangerous positions and after Dane Massey shot narrowly over, McEleney floated one from the left into the centre where Gartland got up to head home his fourth league goal of the season.
It didn’t get any better after that but they held on well leaving Dundalk to pick themselves up before Derry come here on Friday night.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boylre, Masssey; Finn (Shiels, 87 mins), O’Donnell; McEleney, Benson (Mountney, half-time), Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff, 76 mins).
Shamrock Rovers: Murphy; Hanney (O’Connor, 82 mins), Cornwall, Heaney, Madden; Webster, McPhail; Clarke, Shaw (Cregg, 70 mins), McCabe; Boyd (Dobbs, 82 mins).
Referee: R Rogers (Dublin).