John Martin 57' -
Waterford took a further step to guarantee a top four finish as they defeated Dundalk 1-0 at the RSC on Sunday afternoon. A powerful downward header from John Martin proved to be the difference between the two sides as the Blues proved to be a tough nut to crack.
Dundalk made the trip to the sunny south-east off the back of a midweek European defeat by Molde with both sides trying to stake their claim European football for next season - guaranteed for the top three times with fourth also giving passage to Europe if the FAI Cup winner comes from the top three.
The Lilywhites made six changes as in goal Aaron McCarey came in for Gary Rogers, Cameron Dummigan for Darragh Leahy, Andy Boyle for Sean Hoare, Jordan Flores for Gregg Sloggett, Stefan Colovic for Sean Gannon, and up front David McMillan started in place of Patrick Hoban.
The Blues have previously caused problems for the Louth-men playing a 3-5-2 formation, but head coach Fran Rockett implemented a 4-3-3 formation, with former Irish international Daryl Murphy leading the line.
The Blues were looking for their first win since a 1-0 win at home to Sligo Rovers in the last week of September.
The opening exchanges were tentative, neither side finding their groove or their rhythm. It took until the 14th minute for a goalkeeper to be called into action.
Michael Duffy glided down the left before playing a neat one-two with Jordan Flores, before the Derry-man curled an effort toward the far post which Brian Murphy did well to tip round the post.
The game lacked real incisive quality; Duffy continued to look a threat for the away side whereas the Blues occasional high press created some consternation in the Dundalk build-up play.
Just five minutes before the break Waterford had their best chance of the half. Chris Shields was dispossessed in midfield by John Martin, the ball fell to the feet of Daryl Murphy who sauntered past Brian Gartland and tried to clip his effort into the bottom corner but it just went agonizingly wide.
Murphy again had another effort just minutes later which tested the hands of McCarey before the away side had a series of corners.
The Lilywhites started the second half well with two half chances falling to the feet of McMillan, but he could not convert either.
Just minutes before the hour mark, Waterford delivered a succession of crosses and balls into the Dundalk box that eventually brought them their reward.
The ball was cleared to the left hand side where Will Fitzgerald picked it up, he dinked a ball toward the penalty spot where Martin rose highest before powering a downward header into the bottom corner, leaving McCarey clutching at thin air.
Within minutes of going behind, Sean Gannon, Patrick McEleney, Patrick Hoban and Darragh Leahy were all introduced for Dundalk as they went in search of an equaliser.
Already this season Waterford had claimed a point in Oriel Park in August which proved to be the downfall of former Dundalk head coach Vinny Perth. The Blues have perhaps become somewhat of a bogey side for Filippo Giovagnoli’s club.
Dundalk hustled and harried without producing an effort of real quality. Murphy again went close in the 76th minute, a long pass saw the big number seven through on goal, but he could not convert as McCarey saved well.
Gregg Sloggett was introduced for Shields who had a real off day whereas the Blues introduced Will Longbottom and Oluwatunwise Sobowale to consolidate their one goal lead.
Just five minutes from the end, a blocked clearance fell into the path of Hoban who flashed his left footed effort across the face of goal when the Galwegian really should have hit the target.
Waterford held out for the win, their defensive organisation proving to be exemplary, whereas Dundalk continued to look blunt. The win confirmed Bohs as runners up in the league with Dundalk third a point clear of Waterford who have played an extra game.
Next on the horizon for Dundalk is a trip of dreams to the Emirates on Thursday to take on Arsenal whereas Waterford make the trip to Ballybofey to take on a resurgent Finn Harps side in two weeks’ time.
Waterford: Brian Murphy (c); Niall O’Keeffe, Jake Davidson, Darragh Power, Tyreke Wilson; Will Fitzgerald (William Longbottom 65), Ali Coote, Robbie Weir; Daryl Murphy (Dean Walsh 92), John Martin (Oluwatunwise Sobowale 74), Matty Smith
Subs not used: Tadhg Ryan (gk), Shane Griffin, Kurtis Byrne, Alex Phelan
Booked: Niall O’Keeffe (71), Jake Davidson (81), Tyreke Wilson (83)
Dundalk: Aaron McCarey; John Mountney, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Cameron Dummigan (Darragh Leahy 65); Chris Shields (c) (Gregg Sloggett 77), Jordan Flores (Patrick Hoban 61); Sean Murray (Patrick McEleney 61), Stefan Colovic (Sean Gannon 65), Michael Duffy; David McMillan
Subs not used: Gary Rogers (gk), Sean Hoare
Booked: Chris Shields (77)
Referee: Sean Grant
extratime.com Man of the Match: Robbie Weir (Waterford FC)