Pat Hoban scored the only goal at Hunky Dorys Park as Dundalk recorded a narrow win over rivals Drogheda
Patrick Hoban’s strike for Dundalk with less than a quarter of an hour to go settled this Wee County Derby on a night when their more incisive wing play left their cross-county rivals stuck in fifth place and Sligo Rovers looking nervously over their shoulders in third place as the men from the border town closed the gap to two points between them and the reigning champions.
Dundalk came into this match on the back of a fine win against the Westerners. Their defender Chris Shields had overcome a knee injury to feature in the starting line-up, while veteran Drogs’ striker Declan “Fabio” O’Brien was deputising as captain in the injury-enforced absence of Declan Prendergast, and he almost opened the scoring in the eight minute with a lovely curling effort that drifted just wide of Peter Cherrie’s right hand upright.
The opening exchanges were typically frenetic but surprisingly open for a local derby . In the third minute, Ryan Brennan’s lofted ball over the top for the onrushing Peter Hynes led to a free kick on the edge of the area in the third minute after the Drogheda forward was fouled. Hynes himself took the resultant free but drilled it narrowly wide. Dundalk almost replied just two minutes later when Keith Ward caught Alan Byrne napping in possession, but his overcooked final touch allowed Micheal Schlingermann, deputising for the injured Gabriel Sava in the Drogheda goal, to mop up without undue fuss.
Dundalk was starting to find some openings down the flanks, with Patrick Hoban looking a threat down the visitors’ left. John Dillon was also providing some useful ammunition from the right with Richie Towell nearly benefitting from some of his crosses into the Drogs’ area.
For the home side, Peter Hynes and Ryan Brennan, in particular, seemed to be at the heart of most of their creative moves. However, it was the visitors who came closest to opening the scoring in the 26th minute; a Dundalk throw in came to John Dillon whose slide rule ball across the Drogheda six yard area found the boot of Richie Towell, only to see him snatch at the chance. Dundalk were increasingly looking like the more potent side, particularly down the flanks and one of their counterattacks from a Drogs’ corner saw a cross field ball find Stephen McDonnell in space. His resultant attempted lob over Schlingermann was mere inches over the top.
Drogs responded in kind two minutes later when following some patient midfield play, O’Brien forced Peter Cherrie into the game’s most acrobatic save.
For all the midfield promptings of O’Brian and Brennan, however, it was Dundalk who continued to look the more menacing and they will feel that they should have opened the scoring just a minute before half time. A quick throw in from John Dillon saw John Mountney get in behind the Drogs’ back four and his superb pull back led to Patrick Hoban squeezing the ball past Schlingermann from a tight angle. However, the assistant referee adjudged that the ball had crossed the goal line before Hoban’s final touch, and replays proved inconclusive.
The second half saw the home side come out of the traps and a flurry of early pressure saw a goal bound shot from Paul O’Conor charged down. Ex Drogs player Tiarnan Mulvenna came on for Keith Ward in the 58th minute.
Drogheda brought on fresh legs in the 65th minute with Gary O’Neill and Gavin Brennan coming on for Peter Hynes and Jason Mark respectively. However, Dillon’s shot from the edge of the area two minutes later served as warning to the home side and McDonnell’s effort seconds later was inches wide. Some confusion in the Dundalk defence with 20 minutes to go saw Chris Shields and Cherrie caught in no-man’s land and Cathal Brady almost found the visitors’ empty net with his lobbed effort.
There were acrobatics from Cherrie when substitute Gary O’Neill’s aerial scissors’ kick from six yards out saw the Dundalk goalkeeper produce a quality save in the 72nd minute.
Dundalk had looked the more composed as the second half wore on and they got their reward in the 76th minute following Stephen McDonnell’s superb run from midfield. His superbly weighted through ball left Hoban with only Schlingermann to beat and this time there was no doubting the legitimacy of his effort which brought delight to the hundreds of Dundalk supporters who’d made the short trip down the M1.
Striker Graham Rusk came on for midfielder Cathal Brady with eight minute to go as Drogs’ boss Mick Cooke decided to go for broke. The men from the border town were made to sweat out the final three minutes however, when John Mountney received his marching orders with two quick yellow cards in succession; his booking for a foul on Shane Grimes was followed soon afterwards by one for simulation when his tumble in the Drogs’ box didn’t impress referee Alan Kelly. A late flurry from the home side had Cherrie picking some high balls out from under his crossbar, but the visitors held on to heap more misery on their local rivals and put the Bit O’Red under pressure in third place.