David Wilson reports from Oriel Park
An abject display from Dundalk saw them suffer defeat at the hands of a well-organised Sligo Rovers side.
A freak Jesse Devers effort from over 40 yards out and a Ronan Coughlan wonder strike guaranteed a top four finish and a shot at European football next season. Dundalk secure third spot due to Waterford’s defeat to Finn Harps and have guaranteed themselves a European expedition next season.
The fixture list for the Lilywhites has been hectic, 4 games in 16 days including trips to Vienna and London, the Bit O’Red had not played for the same amount of time.
The first real chance landed to Ronan Coughlan in the 9th minute, his glancing header from a Ryan De Vries cross did not have enough purchase.
Just a minute later though the Bit O’Red were in front. De Vries beautifully pirouetted before releasing Jesse Devers, who found himself in oceans of room down the right. The winger aimed to send an early whipped cross towards Coughlan, however the ball flew over the head of Gary Rogers and into the top corner. The Meathman was all at see as he got completely caught out.
The Lilywhites struggled to get into their rhythm, Sean Hoare, Gregg Sloggett and Jordan Flores all taking turns to give possession away needlessly.
Rovers were well drilled, sitting deep encouraging the home side to come out and attack them before springing on the counterattack.
Regan Donelon intercepted well before playing in Coughlan down the left. The striker twisted and turned before laying off Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, but he could not muster a shot on target as the Bit O’Red continued to look dangerous.
Coughlan was giving a clinic in how to play the lone centre-forward position, continuously stretching the Dundalk defence running into the channels looking for the ball in behind. He was found once more by Gary Buckley, but Brian Gartland covered across well as Daniel Cleary’s inability to deal with the long ball continues.
Dundalk showed brief glimpses of quality through Stefan Colovic, Jordan Flores and Nathan Oduwa.
It was not until the 43rd minute though until they really tested Ed McGinty. A succession of corners and a Gartland point blank header was wonderfully clawed off the line by McGinty, displaying the form which has earned him an under-21 international call-up.
Just before the half, Hoare who had a first half to forget got caught underneath a Ryan De Vries cross. Junior controlled well but could only power his volley straight at Rogers.
Patrick Hoban picked up a knock and was replaced by David McMillan just before the halftime whistle.
The second half started with a shout for a penalty after substitute Sean Gannon went down under a challenge from Donelon, but referee Derek Tomney waved away protests.
In the 53rd minute Gannon does what he has so often done in Oriel, glide down the right before crossing for McMillan. His header was only directed straight at McGinty, easy save.
A couple of wide Dundalk deliveries did nothing to break the resolve of Liam Buckley’s men as they continued to defend comfortably.
The flow of the game was broken by a series of stoppages and fouls as Rovers looked to consolidate their lead.
The game lacked quality and spark even with the introduction of John Mountney, Alex Cooper and Darragh Noone.
With just 14 minutes left a good Sligo move saw Junior roll his defender on the edge of the box and find Devers but his low driven effort back across goal was cleared well.
To symbolise Dundalk’s desperation and their complete lack of imagination, centre-half Cleary was thrown forward as a striker with just over 10 minutes to go.
As the clock ticked toward 90, Gannon could not divert his effort beyond McGinty as he toe-poked an effort from 4 yards out following a Gartland header.
In additional time Cleary went close twice, the first being blocked, the second saved easily by McGinty.
A long ball was beautifully controlled by the excellent Coughlan, he cut inside and unleashed a venomous trike into the top corner. What a goal to bookmark the season.
Rovers finish fourth, the Town finish third and this game will be remembered for the ultra-professional away performance and frankly a blunt home one.
Dundalk have a break before they take on Bohemians in the cup, as do Sligo who play Derry in just under two weeks’ time.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers (GK); Sean Hoare, Brian Gartland (C), Daniel Cleary, Cameron Dummigan (Darragh Leahy 84); Gregg Sloggett, Jordan Flores (John Mountney 74), Sean Murray (Sean Gannon 46); Nathan Oduwa, Stefan Colovic; Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 45 +2).
Unused substitutes: Aaron McCarey (GK), Jamie Wynne, Andy Boyle.
Yellow card: Sean Hoare (68).
Sligo Rovers: Edward McGinty (GK); Lewis Banks, John Mahon, Gary Buckley, Regan Donelon (Alex Cooper 64); Jesse Devers, David Cawley, Niall Morahan (Will Seymore 79), Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe, Ryan De Vries (Darragh Noone 74); Ronan Coughlan.
Unused substitutes: Luke McNicholas (GK), Danny Kane, Darren Collins, Sigitas Olberkis.
Yellow card: Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe (42), Regan Donelon (54), Niall Morahan (58), Jesse Devers (80), Ed McGinty (90 +4).
Referee: Derek Tomney
Extratime.com Player of the Match: Ronan Coughlan (Sligo Rovers).