Dundalk 1 Sligo Rovers 0
This may not have been quite the sort of continuity that Dundalk's American owners had in mind when they moved to appoint Vinny Perth in the wake of Stephen Kenny's sudden departure from Oriel Park, but it all did have a familiar feel of sorts.
It has been a while since any manager taking over at the club has won his opening match and this time last year Dundalk dropped two points at home to Bray which did not, in the end, seem to harm them too much.
To judge by the overall performance, there is not much cause for panic this time around either but the loss of Robbie Benson to what looked a serious injury is a significant blow even if his replacement, Sean Murray, made quite a mark on his debut.
The visitors, of course, had plenty to be pleased about as the final whistle sounded, the home supporters headed straight for the exits and the stadium announcer gave the final score as 1-0 to the champions before quickly correcting himself. By almost any measure, they were well outplayed and under near relentless pressure late on, they were clearly hanging on.
They stuck at it, though, and will clearly feel they earned their point. It might even have been three had Romeo Parkes, one of four starters making competitive debuts for the club, shown more composure when a rare opportunity arose to threaten Gary Rogers’ goal late on. That, though, would have been to stray well into the territory of an injustice.
The night, to be fair, could scarcely have gotten off to a worse start for Perth. Barely five minutes had passed when Dante Leverock’s error left teenage goalkeeper Edward McGinty scrambling to make a challenge on Benson. After an awkward connection the midfielder received treatment for some six minutes before being carried off and sent to hospital, for an x-ray on what looked like it might be a broken leg or ankle.
Everything that followed in the first half inevitably seemed less serious by comparison but it still wasn't good from a Dundalk perspective. Having saved a Pat Hoban penalty as Sligo lost 5-0 here last season, McGinty picked himself up to repeat the trick. There was a touch of the 'last ditch' about some of the defending that followed but under persistent pressure Rovers certainly did not want for energy or application, with Regan Donelon's block on Hoban midway through the opening half one of a few standout moments.
Benson’s replacement, Murray, should have scored with a header that bounced clean over but then produced a terrific cross to set Hoban up for a much better close attempt that McGinty saved quite brilliantly.
Sligo were generally struggling to get out of their own half and so logic suggested that it was only a matter of time before they conceded. As is so often the case, however, logic had little to do with it and after Chris Shields took down Liam Kerrigan inside firing range, 20 year-old Jack Keaney stepped up to hit a curling free-kick which just about squeezed through the space between Gary Rogers' extended arm and and the foot of his post.
With all of the injury time, Rovers kept their noses in front for a combined 10 minutes either side of the break before Dundalk finally sent something McGinty's way that he simply couldn't handle. Murray was making his presence felt on a few fronts but after a neat build up involving Dane Massey, John Mountney and finally Hoban, who teed him up, the former Watford midfielder scored a cracker with a first time shot from the edge of the area.
The prospects of Liam Buckley’s side getting through the rest of the night without conceding again did not look all that bright at that stage but again a young side showed the sort of character that should serve them very well against the league’s lesser lights over the months ahead.
The work-rate certainly never really dropped and though they couldn’t quite get the sort of foothold required in midfield to ease the pressure around their own area Dundalk couldn’t generate the clearcut chance required to grab a winner. They came close often enough with Hoban firing over, Murray having a shot blocked by Leverock and Sean Gannon skimming the top of the crossbar with a volley
McGinty, though, was relatively untroubled through those closing stages and having lost all three games between the two sides last year, Sligo slipped away with their point. Change enough for one night.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson (Murray, 12, mins); Mountney (D Kelly, 74 mins), McEleney (G Kelly, 83 mins), Duffy; Hoban.
Sligo Rovers: McGinty; Dunleavy, Leverock, Mahon, Donelon; Twardek, McFadden, Keaney, Kerrigan (Coughlan, 87 mins); Fordyce (Morahan, 83 mins), Parkes.
Referee: R Harvey (Dublin).