David Wilson reports from Oriel Park
A Daniel Kelly masterclass on his 25th birthday earned a valuable three points for Dundalk at the expense of league leaders Shamrock Rovers who saw their 33-game unbeaten run come to an end where it all began back in September 2019.
Goals from firstly Patrick McEleney and then Kelly, cancelled out Joey O’Brien’s first half equalise and put Stephen Bradley’s side to the sword on a cool evening at Oriel Park.
Prior to the game starting a protest of around 150 Dundalk fans gathered outside the ground to voice their displeasure with the ownership of the club.
The events passed off without any incident, a couple of fireworks and flares were ignited, but the Shamrock Rovers travelling contingent were allowed enter the ground peacefully.
A rip-roaring first half of football set the tone for an entertaining clash on the pitch.
Rovers came flying out of the blocks pressing high and playing progressively. The first ten minutes of the game was owned by the away side, coming closest after four minutes when a fantastic switch of play from Daniel Mandroiu found Sean Gannon.
The former Dundalk star crossed to Aaron Greene who flicked his header onto the head of Liam Scales who nodded onto the bar beating a scrambling Alessio Abibi.
However, it was the Lilywhites who took the lead against the run of play in the 11th minute. A Hoops corner was cleared by Andy Boyle toward Cameron Dummigan who in turn found Kelly wide on the left touchline right on halfway.
Kelly drew both Gary O’Neill and Gannon in, leaving the centre of the park wide open. He managed to find the thunderous run of McEleney who controlled well, held off the last-ditch efforts of Pico Lopes and finished high beyond Alan Mannus to give Dundalk the perfect start.
Two minutes later and parity was restored. Gannon thrashed an effort across the goal toward Lopes who confused the on-rushing Abibi by glancing a header beyond the Albanian. Chris Shields attempted to clear the ball off the line but in doing so Abibi deflected the ball away from his centre half and Joey O’Brien was on hand to score the simplest of goals.
Abibi had started confidently saving well from Mandroiu and claiming a corner, but Rovers targeted the ‘keeper shooting from range and whipping crosses under his crossbar.
Dundalk’s best avenue of attack was long passes in behind to Kelly who was a livewire. He nearly got in behind from a neat David McMillan pass, but Gannon got in to stop the danger in the 25th minute.
Just after the half hour mark another Kelly run resulted in a Dundalk chance. Lee Grace made a poor clearance to McEleney who plucked the ball out of the sky excellently. The Derry native found his county compatriot Michael Duffy at the back stick but Mannus saved well from eight yards.
The remaining minutes of the first half were dominated in terms of ball possession by Rovers but they couldn’t create guilt-edge chances, Dundalk continued to play on the break but failed to create anything of note.
The second half was just three minutes old when a long Scales pass into the left channel beat everyone and found its way to Greene. The number nine had his mind made up with Abibi’s aggressive positioning as the striker attempted to lift the ball over the ‘keeper but unfortunately for the Hoops his effort bounced up and against the crossbar.
Five minutes later and Rovers hit the woodwork once more. Graham Burke stood up Shields and cut in on his left where he unleashed a rasper that struck the far post and was then cleared to safety. Rovers were cursing their luck.
One minute before the hour mark, Dundalk were ahead. A lethargic Rovers build-up play was seized upon after a poor Mandroiu pass was intercepted by McEleney. The crafty midfielder drove at the Hoops defence before teeing up Kelly out wide to his right who thumped his effort first time beyond the clutches of Mannus who did not even smell it.
Raivis Jurkovksis, Stanton and Kelly all suffered with cramp as Dundalk held on to that lead. The Lilywhites had run themselves into the ground and had pressed throughout the game vigorously.
Shortly after going down with cramp, Jurkovksis cut inside and fired an effort that whistled past Mannus’ post with eight minutes remaining.
A minute later substitute Mitdskogen should have wrapped up all three points for the home side. Duffy gathered a Mitdskogen knockdown before playing the Norwegian in, and from a tight angle the centre-forward smashed his effort straight art Mannus who stood up tall and kept his side in the game.
In the final minute Rovers should have been level. Dundalk fell asleep from a quick corner taken by Rory Gaffney who fed Mandroiu. His centre found the head of an unmarked Greene five yards out but he directed his header back across goal which just shaved the post and went behind to safety from a Dundalk perspective.
A final goalmouth scramble underneath Dundalk’s crossbar bore no fruit as Rovers suffer their first league defeat since September 2019.
Dundalk: Alessio Abibi; Cameron Dummigan, Chris Shields (c), Andy Boyle, Raivis Jurkovskis; Daniel Kelly (Ole Eirik Midtskogen 75), Wilfried Zahibo, Sam Stanton (Greg Sloggett 78) Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; David McMillan
Subs not used: Peter Cherrie (GK), Darragh Leahy, Sean Murray, Val Adedokun, Ryan O’Kane, Han Jeongwoo, Jesus Perez
Booked: Wilfried Zahibo (40), Sam Stanton (49), David McMillan (79), Alessio Abibi (90 + 3)
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes (c); Sean Gannon, Gary O’Neill, Danny Mandroiu, Liam Scales; Aaron Greene, Graham Burke (Dean Williams 86), Rory Gaffney
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (GK), Adam Wells, Darragh Nugent, Max Murphy, Dean McMenemy, Cole Omorehoman, Kevin Zefi, Aidomo Emakhu
Booked: Joey O’Brien (67)
Referee: Robert Harvey
Extratime.com player of the match: Daniel Kelly (Dundalk)