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Bohemians got the defence of their Premier Division crown off to the perfect start with a hard fought victory over newly promoted Dundalk at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Joseph Ndo's header on 72 minutes was enough to give the Gyspies victory in a game which also saw Dundalk boss Sean Connor sent to the stands for over-protesting after his side were denied a late penalty. The home side will feel aggrieved not to have picked something up from the game, having proved more than a match for the Dublin side for long periods.
Bohs manager Pat Fenlon was forced to re-shuffle his back four with Anthony Murphy slotting in at right back in place of Owen Heary who lined out in the centre of defence. He also handed competitive debuts to Ndo and Paul Keegan in midfield, while due to a string of injuries, he opted to only name four substitutes.
If evidence were needed of the huge change which has taken place at Dundalk during the close season then it was provided in their starting line-up, which featured just two players who played in the side which clinched promotion against Kildare County on the final day of last season. However, Connor was not able to call on the services of Michael Collins who missed the game due to injury.
The game itself started at a timid pace with both sides struggling to find their feet on the new synthetic surface in Oriel Park. It was the home side who seemed to adapt quickest and they looked like the side most likely to make the breakthrough in the opening stages, with Harpal Singh, a close season signing from Bohs, looking lively down the left.
Bohs goalkeeper Brian Murphy was a tad fortunate not to see red on 21 minutes when he bundled into Chris Turner on the edge of his area. Luckily for Murphy, Turner stayed on his feet, although when the ball eventually ran out of play, the referee awarded a free-kick and showed Murphy a yellow card.
O'Callaghan created the first real chance from open play on 23 minutes when he swung in a dangerous corner, but Michael Daly headed over.
Cheered on by a boisterous home support, Dundalk continued to threaten with Daly striking the post from distance shortly after.
That close call seemed to finally awaken Bohs and Anthony Murphy really should have fired the away side ahead on 40 minutes. The ball fell to him in acres of space inside the Dundalk area, but rather than take the ball down he shot tamely at Chris Bennion in the Dundalk goal. In the dying moments of the half, Neale Fenn tried his luck with an audacious lob from 30 yards, but the back-tracking Bennion was able to get back and collect. There was also still time for midfielder Glen Cronin to go close with a header from six yards.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first, with Dundalk continuing to look strong. O'Callaghan came within inches of putting his side into the lead on 56 minutes when he just failed to connect with Dave Rogers' curling ball into the box.
A hallmark of Bohemians march to the title last season was their ability to win even when they weren't at their best and so it proved to be again as Ndo headed home a superb winner on 72 minutes. Owen Heary collected the ball just inside the Dundalk half before floating an inch-perfect ball into the heart of the area. Cameroonian international Ndo rose highest to send a delightful header into the top corner. The move came just minutes after Fenlon had withdrew the inneffectual Glen Crowe and put Ndo through the middle alongside Fenn.
That goal appeared to galvanize the home side and former Bohs midfielder Chris Turner almost grabbed his side an immediate equaliser when he tore down the left and into the box, only to be denied by Anthony Murphy's last ditch challenge. Turner again went close just moments later when he flashed a header inches over the bar from eight yards.
With Dundalk pushing forward for an equaliser, Bohs looked to hit on the break. On 77 minutes, the ball fell to Ndo on the edge of the area and with Bennion stranded he lifted the ball over the keeper's head, only for defender Sean Kelly to get back and clear on the line.
Dundalk had claims for a penalty waved away on 80 minutes, with Dundalk boss Connor sent to the stands for over-protesting to the fourth official. However, while Dundalk continued to huff and puff in the closing minutes, Bohs used all their experience to hang on for three precious away points.
Dundalk: Chris Bennion; Sean Kelly, Dave Rogers, Liam Burns, Thomas Heary; Michael Daly, Simon Kelly, George O'Callaghan, Chris Turner, Harpal Singh; Declan O'Brien (Tiarnan Mulvenna, 81).
Subs not used: Michael McGinlay, Ryan Coulter, Dwight Barnett, Mark Griffin.
Booked: O'Callaghan (17), Turner (90).
Bohemians: Brian Murphy; Owen Heary, Mark Rossiter, Jason McGuinness, Anthony Murphy; Joseph Ndo, Paul Keegan, Glenn Cronin (Graham Carey, 78), Killian Brennan; Glen Crowe (Gary Deegan, 60), Neale Fenn.
Subs not used: Matt Gregg, Ryan McEvoy.
Booked: Murphy (20), Cronin (78).
Referee: Dave McKeon.