Shamrock Rovers 2 Dundalk 1
Three games into the new season might be a little too early to for anyone up at Oriel Park to be breaking the glass on the panic button but one point from three games might start the fingers twitching.
Over in America, the owners might feel that their side did enough to deserve something from this but the loss has still handed the title holders an early advantage in this year’s race.
The visitors would certainly have swapped their President's Cup success from a couple of weeks back for a share of the spoils but goals from Danny Mandroiu and Dylan Watts, one in each half, were enough to decide the contest in favour of Stephen Bradley's side.
Dundalk chased the game valiantly and looked like they might well get back level at 1-0 but having conceded a second, they had too much to do. Pat Hoban's 89th minute header, from a Chris Shields cross, never amounted to anything more than a consolation effort even if it did add a bit of edge to injury time.
Newly recruited goalkeeper Alessio Abibi was the hero in the penalty shootout when the two sides met to mark the start of the new campaign but he had a much tougher night this time. His attempt to save from Mandroiu seemed less than heroic and he was really poor for the one from Watts which he allowed to squeeze past him despite getting a hand to it.
It was a huge blow to his side as they sought to get back on terms in a game they had initially struggled to settle into.
Shane Keegan’s team made three changes to the side that lost at home to Harps last week and, for all the higher profile new recruits, handed a full debut to local teenager Ryan O’Kane, a recent arrival at the club but not to senior football having made his first appearance in the Irish league aged just 15.
He looked lively here, showing a bit of pace out on the right but still struggled to make much of an impact on a game in which the champions were having the better of early on. Dundalk's best chance of the opening half, in any case, started down the other flank where Michael Duffy stole a yard or two on Sean Hoare and sent in a low cross for Hoban who couldn't quite get the touch required while under pressure from Liam Scales.
By then, they had already had to shuffle things up again with Brian Gartland carried off after an awkward turn in the opening minutes and replaced by Greg Sloggett. They never quite looked completely on top of things with him playing on the right of three midfielders. After Mandroiu had put the hosts in front with a shot just outside the area 10 minutes before the break they changed their shape with Sloggett pushing forward to slot in alongside Shields and Sam Stanton in the centre of the field.
Ole Erik Midtskogen, on for O'Kane, should have done better with a shot from close range shortly after the break and Michael Duffy then clattered one against the crossbar as the visitors' began to show more urgency.
It wasn't exactly one way stuff and Bradley clearly reckoned his side should have had a penalty when Daniel Cleary made contact with Mandroiu inside the area but the key moment came when Duffy hit a powerful low drive from close range that Alan Mannus did really well to save. From the middle of a crowded area Midtskogel headed his follow up over but it was the shot that looked like it had been Dundalk's big chance to take something from the game.
Instead, within a couple of minutes Watts had made the game safe with a shot that flew through Cleary's legs before Abibi tried but failed to deal with it and after an error by the former Albanian youth international in last week's defeat as well, the 24 year-old may find himself under pressure from Peter Cherrie who returned to the club recently after a seven year absence.
These may be early days but it’s not how things were intended to be shaping up for Dundalk.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Hoare, Grace, Scales; Gannon (O'Neill, 74 mins), McCann, Finn, Kavanagh; Burke (Watts, 64 mins), Greene, Mandroiu (Gaffney, 78 mins).
Dundalk: Abibi; Gartland (Sloggett, 6 mins (Ogedi-Uzokwe, 74 mins), Boyle, Cleary; Jurkovskis (Leahy, 82 mins), Stanton, Shields, Dummigan; O'Kane (Midtskogen, half-time), Hoban, Duffy.
Referee: P McLaughlin (Donegal)