David Wilson reporting from Tallaght Stadium
On a damp night in South Dublin, league champions Dundalk’s first venture into the capital resulted in a share of the spoils with Shamrock Rovers.
Pre-match, the atmosphere was raucous, as Dundalk’s vociferous travelling support numbering around 650 travelled down the M1 to support their team. However, unfortunately for the 4,705 spectators, the game lacked creative spark as defences were on top at the Tallaght Stadium.
Inside the opening two minutes arguably Rovers’ best chance fell to new striker, Orhan Vojic. The Austrian was laid off by Joel Coustrain and from 19 yards out shot high, but Gary Rogers in the Dundalk goal managed to tip over.
The game lacked a rhythm, Rovers pressed well early on, but Dundalk managed to grab a foothold in midfield through Chris Shields and Sean Murray after 15 minutes.
After 17 minutes, Michael Duffy skipped down the left and was fouled by Roberto Lopes. Murray took the free-kick and it was met at the back post by Dundalk defensive stalwart Sean Hoare who nodded it against the bar before Rovers could clear after Dane Massey fluffed the follow-up.
Daniel Kelly, who was a late replacement for John Mountney as he tweaked a groin in the warm-up, provided threatening pace down Dundalk’s right side. Kelly’s place on the bench was taken by Dylan Hand.
Dundalk now came into their own and began to take over possession. The Hoops’ narrow midfield four of Jack Byrne, Greg Bolger, Ronan Finn and Aaron McEneff struggled to retain possession due the high press by their midfield counterparts.
In a first half that lacked expansive attacking football, the Louthmen shaded it but neither side could create a clear-cut chance.
The second half started with the Lilywhites attacking Rovers straight from the whistle. Sean Gannon and Kelly attacked down their right side in front of the travelling support who began to urge their team on vehemently.
Vojic cut a lonely figure up top for Rovers and was unable to hold the ball up and bring teammates into play. Vojic was replaced by Daniel Carr after 57 minutes and Carr’s immediate exuberance and pace brought something new to the Rovers style of play.
Chances were hard to come by and in the 62nd minute, a poor ball from Shields was intercepted by Trevor Clarke, the Rovers’ left-back drove at Sean Gannon before unleashing a 20-yard strike which was routinely saved by Rogers.
Three minutes later Stephen Bradley and the Rovers bench were up in arms as they were denied claims for a penalty. Ronan Finn crossed from the right-hand side, the ball was blocked by Hoare, Finn felt it was illegally done with his hand, the referee did not and pointed for a corner.
The South Stand began to get louder, as Rovers enjoyed a spell in the Dundalk half. Byrne was neat and tidy in the midfield and showed he could pass and receive the ball in tight and narrow spaces.
Dundalk’s Duffy caused problems for the Hoops’ defence, but the final ball lacked. Patrick Hoban was marshalled well by centre halves Lee Grace and Joey O’Brien whilst Bolger provided protection in front.
In the 89th minute Gannon went on a marauding run into the Rovers box. Bolger looked to have brought him down and the Lilywhite fans demanded a penalty, however, the referee disagreed again and pointed for a corner. It looked like Bradleys’ men may have got the rub of the green on this occasion.
Dundalk skipper Brian Gartland spoke after the game about the penalty. “To me it was a blatant penalty, he saw him (Bolger) coming and he (Gannon) just scooped it… we’re disappointed he (referee) didn’t give it,” said Gartland.
In a game which more replicated a game of chess rather than a game of football, Rovers may be the happier of the two sides as they hold their one-point advantage over their rivals. Finn Harps are the next visitors to the Tallaght stadium on Monday, whereas Dundalk play host to Waterford in Oriel Park next Friday night.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus, Roberto Lopes, Joey O’Brien, Lee Grace, Trevor Clarke, Greg Bolger, Aaron McEneff, Jack Byrne (Sean Kavanagh 90), Ronan Finn (C), Joel Coustrain (Brandon Kavanagh 82), Orhan Vojic (Daniel Carr 57)
Unused Substitutes: Leon Pohls (gk), Sam Bone, Dylan Watts, Dean Dillon.
Yellow Card: Joey O’Brien, Ronan Finn, Greg Bolger, Orhan Vojic.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland (C), Sean Hoare, Dane Massey, Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Joe McKee 81), Michael Duffy, Jamie McGrath, Daniel Kelly (Cameron Dummigan 90), Patrick Hoban (Georgie Kelly 88)
Unused Substitutes: Aaron McCarey (GK), Jordan Flores, Daniel Cleary, Dylan Hand
Yellow Card: Sean Murray.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Sean Hoare (Dundalk).