David Wilson reports from Richmond Park
It was back to reality as St. Patrick's Athletic welcomed Dundalk to Richmond Park after a midweek European trip to Premier League giants Arsenal.
A Patrick Hoban poachers finish was cancelled out by a towering Robbie Benson header as both sides chased a European place.
It was a case of what might have been as the Saints failed to capitalise on being the better side as Dundalk were average for large parts of the game.
An entertaining opening 45 minutes saw both sides deal well with the wet and blustery conditions. In the race for European football, both sides deployed formations which had three centre-halves at the base of it.
The only difference was Michael Duffy played alongside Hoban in a front two, Jordan Gibson occupied the lone striker role for Pats with Benson and Billy King supporting as inverted wingers.
Stephen O’Donnell was once a Dundalk player, captain, coach and opposition analyst and he certainly had his homework done on his former side matching the Lilywhites midfield and defensive shape.
In the build-up to the Arsenal match head coach Filippo Giovagnoli described this game against St. Pats as more important than their European exploits and it showed as the Town pressed from the front early.
However, it was Pats who made the most dangerous effort toward goal in the opening 20 minutes. Lee Desmond timed his tackle excellently on Hoban allowing Gibson to manoeuvre the ball into the path of King.
King put both Dan Cleary and Brian Gartland on their backsides with two excellent shimmies before striking the ball low, but Gary Rogers made a good save to deny.
In the 23rd minute, Serbian Stefan Colovic whipped a delicious ball to the back stick. Wing-back Darragh Leahy slid and diverted the ball across to Hoban who tucked home from close range.
Four minutes later Pats should have been level. Gibson pounced on a ball which split the Lilywhite back three, rounded Rogers, steadied himself but somehow smashed his effort into the side netting as the goal gaped.
Pats now had grown into the game, but still had to remain on their toes. Hoare cleared a long ball, Luke McNally let the ball bounce and Hoban manipulated his body, swivelled but dragged his effort wide.
Pats continued to push forward; Dundalk looked anything but comfortable from set plays. McNally nearly got on the end of Chris Forrester delivery before Rory Feely fired the follow-up wide.
Just four minutes before the half, King continued to look bright. The Scot collected a Benson cross before firing a shot into a glut of Dundalk bodies where it appeared to strike a hand. However, referee Paul McLaughlin waved away the vociferus Inchicore protests.
Pats bossed the opening 15 of the second half, dominating the possession. A throw in out wide on the right, saw Desmond play a little on-two, his first time cross was floated and Benson leapt like some salmon to power his header into the ground and beyond the clutches of Rogers.
The equaliser had been coming, much like the Molde game, the Town could not retain possession as the Saints pinned them in their own third. The goal followed an excellent period of possession for O’Donnell’s side.
Cameron Dummigan and John Mountney came on shortly after the concession of the equaliser in the wing-back positions as Giovagnoli needed to change the rhythm of the game as Pats had been in the ascendancy since going behind.
Earlier in the season, the two sides met in oriel and played out a 1-1 draw after a Benson strike cancelled out an earlier Hoban goal. History repeating itself once more as the ex-Dundalk midfield maestro continues to be a thorn in his old side.
With just thirteen minutes remaining Cleary gave a poor ball away in a dangerous area. The ever-bright Benson played it wide to Feely whose low cross was cleared by Gartland with Cleary immediately replaced by Andy Boyle as he had made a string of errors.
The final chance of note came off a Boyle long ball. The ball skimmed off the head of Bermingham, into the path of Hoban who knocked into the path of substitute David McMillan, but the pass was too wide forcing McMillan to shoot from a tight angle which Brendan Clarke saves comfortably.
Overall, Dundalk should be the happier of the sides taking a point. Pats next make the trip to Tallaght to take on Shamrock Rovers as they are coronated league champions. The Lilywhites must travel to Austria to take on Rapid Wien as their European adventure continues.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Luke McNally, Shane Griffin, Rory Feely, Lee Desmond, Ian Bermingham; Chris Forrester, Jamie Lennon, Robbie Benson, Billy King (Darragh Burns 80); Jordan Gibson (James Doona 85)
Subs not used: Conor Kearns (GK), David Titov, Ben McCormack, Paul Cleary, Jason McClelland
Booked: Chris Forrester (58), Stephen O’Donnell (90 +2).
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers (GK); Sean Gannon (John Mountney 67), Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary (Andy Boyle 78), Darragh Leahy (Cameron Dummigan 67); Chris Shields (C), Gregg Sloggett; Stefan Colovic (Jordan Flores 56); Michael Duffy (David McMillan 78), Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), David McMillian, Andy Boyle, Jamie Wynne.
Booked: Patrick Hoban (58), Jordan Flores (63).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Lee Desmond (St. Patricks Athletic).