Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
It was a ‘good Friday’ for Dundalk after they moved up to third in the SSE Airtricity League table thanks to a comprehensive 3-0 win over bottom-of-the-league Finn Harps at Oriel Park.
Daniel Kelly produced an outstanding display and collected the match ball on the full-time whistle after scoring all three goals as the Lilywhites kept pace with both Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians.
Dundalk made a total of five changes from their win over Bohemians on Monday night with Brian Gartland, Dane Massey, Chris Shields, Patrick McEleney, and Daniel Kelly all returning to the fold.
With just two points on the board heading into this match, Finn Harps – who lost to Bohs last Friday – made three changes with Raffaele Cretaro, Tony McNamee and Mikey Place coming into the team.
Unlike their last three fixtures, Dundalk started brightly in this one when Kelly played a lovely ball into Jamie McGrath, who hit the post but the flag was raised in any case for a foul by Harps on Kelly.
Harps were incensed by the awarding of that free-kick in a dangerous position but Massey – who was dropped for the win over Bohs – subsequently sent his left-footed effort into the side-netting.
Vinny Perth’s side have been hit with several injuries since the start of the season and they were dealt another blow when captain Gartland took a blow to the head from an Daniel O’Reilly’s elbow.
Following what was a lengthy stoppage, the Dundalk defender had to be replaced by Daniel Cleary and both he and Sean Hoare headed over from separate corners.
Harps then started to grow into the game and O’Reilly – who somehow got on the end of a long throw-in by McNamee – headed goalwards to force Gary Rogers into a fantastic reaction save at his near post.
Growing in confidence, the visitors again went close to taking a shock lead when Place, who looked to have controlled the ball with his hand, flashed a snapshot wide as Oriel Park grew increasingly worrisome.
Patrick Hoban was lucky to escape a booking when he clattered into Ciaran Gallagher, who as a result had to be replaced by Finn Harps’ reserve ‘keeper Peter Burke as yet more stoppages ensued.
The Lilywhites saw penalty appeals waved away by referee Robert Harvey when Sean Gannon managed to find his way into the box before going down under a hefty challenge from McNamee.
Nine minutes of injury time were added at the end of the first half and Dundalk took the lead in the second of those when Kelly finished superbly following a low cut-back from Michael Duffy.
Rooted at the foot of the table, the ever-vociferous Ollie Horgan’s side didn’t drop their heads and almost equalised deep into first-half stoppage time when Place’s shot produced another Rogers save.
Having won a last-gasp penalty in the win over Bohs, Kelly got his and Dundalk’s second two minutes into the second period when he capitalised on a loose ball to rifle past the helpless Burke.
Duffy then drilled a shot just wide as Dundalk looked to kill the match off as a contest and that was directly before Caolan McAleer tried his luck at the other end but once again, Rogers denied Harps.
Dundalk’s top scorer this season Hoban had chances twice in succession when his effort went wide following Duffy’s dinked pass before going close again when dragging his effort wide of the post.
Hoban – who is just one goal behind the club’s all-time league record – later sent in a cross that was almost headed into his own net by defender Sam Todd with Duffy lurking and waiting to pounce.
It was the superb Kelly who stole the show on the night as he completed his hat-trick when he fired into the bottom left-hand corner after some excellent build-up play from Hoban and Gannon.
Kelly really should have capped off a magnificent display with a fourth goal but he could only divert Hoban’s ball into Burke as Dundalk looked to be back to their old selves throughout the night.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland (Daniel Cleary 13), Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Patrick McEleney (Joe McKee 71); Daniel Kelly, Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy (John Mountney 80); Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Aaron McCarey, Dean Jarvis, Jordan Flores, Georgie Kelly.
Booked: Chris Shields (60).
Finn Harps: Ciaran Gallagher (Peter Burke 28); John Kavanagh, Keith Cowan, Sam Todd, Daniel O’Reilly; Caolan McAleer, Mark Coyle (Michael Gallagher 74), Tony McNamee, Nathan Boyle; Raffaele Cretaro (Sean Boyd 56); Mikey Place.
Subs not used: Niall Logue, Mark Russell, Stephen Doherty, Liam Walsh.
Booked: Daniel O’Reilly (7), Sam Todd (17), Mark Coyle (45+1), Raffaele Cretaro (53), Caolan McAleer (70).
Referee: Robert Harvey.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Daniel Kelly (Dundalk).