Sligo twice fought back from behind to claim a valuable point at Oriel Park against league-leaders Dundalk.
Sligo helped their survival chances as they took yet another massive point against a top three side this week. The Bit O’ Red have picked up consecutive draws against Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers as part of a five match unbeaten run, this may prove nothing short of a coup in their bid to ensure Premier League status next season.
The Lilywhites will feel they missed a trick on the chasing pack at the top end of the table. Dundalk knew of Rovers’ draw with Bohemians before kick-off and news of Cork City’s draw with Bray Wanderers would have filtered through come half time. As things stood at the break – with the home side leading a goal to nil – there stood a surely insurmountable ten points between them and second placed Cork.
Both managers tweaked their starting line-ups going into this game. For Dundalk, Stephen Kenny brought in; Chris Shields, Darren Meenan and Ciarán Kilduff while his opposite number, Mickey Adams added; Morten Nielsen, Tim Clancy and impressive debutant Jennison Myrie-Williams to his eleven. Some rotation may be necessary at this taxing stage of the season, there may also be an element of subterfuge with an FAI quarter final date between these two in six days’ time.
The game started with engrossing football that led to efforts from both sides. Nielsen tested Gary Rogers from distance early on and Myrie-Williams was menacing on the wing, his delivery gradually improving and it would be a warning of things to come. Dundalk’s earliest effort of substance fell to Dane Massey who was played in by Ronan Finn only to pull it wide to the groans of fans who evidently spotted the better incoming options.
After some systematic probing from the home side, a superb sixteenth minute Ronan Finn solo effort opened the scoring. Finn chested to control Richard Brush’s kicked clearance near the half way line and darted forward evading the Sligo midfield’s attempts to close him down. Tim Clancy looked to have disposed Finn at the edge of the area but Finn’s perseverance saw him nip the ball back to get in on goal and drive his shot home.
On the half hour mark, Kilduff almost doubled the home side’s lead with a spectacular overhead attempt but the woodwork came to the visitor’s rescue. At the other end Jennison Myrie-Williams teed up Dinny Corcoran whose volley over from the edge of the area looked to have equaliser written all over it.
The game opened up following the goal and resulted in plenty of room to attack for both sides. The result of which was a pulsating fixture fit to round off a real sports-junky Saturday. That said, leading 1-0 at half time, it looked like The Lilywhites would have a firmer grip than ever on the league title with results elsewhere going their way.
But the fixture that might have had the biggest influence on this game was likely not one Dundalk fans were monitoring too closely. Bottom side Limerick were leading St Patricks Athletic 3-0 by the time Alan Keane’s men came in for the break: as things stood then, there would have been just two points between Sligo and The Blues with both sides set to meet on the final day of the season. You can imagine the team talk alluded to this.
A Sligo with impetus emerged at half time and really took the game to their hosts. Within three minutes of the restart they were level. A free kick out on the right was delivered by Myrie-Williams and evaded everyone in the Dundalk box. It may well have already been over the line as Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle scrambled to get something on it, but they were beaten to it by Corcoran who bowed to head it in and make sure of it.
Ronan Finn came close to restoring The Town’s lead some minutes later when Dane Massey played him clear on the left to cut into the box. Baring down on Bush from an obtuse angle, he elected to square the ball but there was no white jersey to convert.
As the game ticked over the hour, Finn succeeded in bagging a second. Yet again, it was a real piece of individual skill; he collected the ball deep in Rovers’ territory and absolutely thumped his shot home from distance past a stranded Brush. His fifth goal of the season and third this week.
Having upped their game after the equaliser, the Lilywhites proceeded to let Sligo back into the game – or rather it might be more accurate to say Sligo imposed themselves on the match after conceding – The Bit O’Red presented themselves in a positive fashion and had the guts to pass the ball against the best passing side in the country.
An equaliser came on the 76th minute via Alan Keane. Dundalk were slow to react to their own cleared ball from a corner, and Keane collected the ball from deep and found himself 30 yards out before a white shirt closed him. His prospective shot was akin to Finn’s wonder-strike in the first half.
The momentum shifted once again as Dundalk chased a winner and ramped up towards the end. An 88th minute scramble took the ball clear of the Sligo line and a 91st minute piledriver from Towell needed a good save from Brush to ensure parity
The visitors will be the happier of the two, as a point in Oriel might not have been in their survival plan. For Dundalk it will certainly feel like two points dropped although results elsewhere keep it status-quo at the top. They remain eight clear and the window to catch them is steadily closing.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Chris Shields; Darren Meenan, Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan (Stephen O’Donnell 66) (John Mountney 87); Ciaran Kilduff (David McMillan 80).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Shane Grimes, Kurtis Byrne, Paddy Barrett.
Booked: Gartland (57), Kilduff (73).
Sligo Rovers: Richard Brush; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers, Tim Clancy, Regan Donelan; Gary Boylan, David Cawley; Morten Nielsen (Raffaele Cretaro 69), Jason Hughes (Anthony Elding 69), Jennison Myrie Williams; Dinny Corcoran (Ruairi Keating 76).
Subs not used: Ryan Coulter, Keith Ward, Robert Lehane, Jake Dykes.
Booked: Nielsen (60).
Referee: Paul Tuite.
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Ronan Finn (Dundalk FC).