Patrick Hoban’s well taken strike gave Dundalk the local bragging rites as they beat Drogheda United 1-0 at Hunky Dory Park on Monday night.
Stephen Kenny’s side went into the Louth derby knowing that a win would put them nine points off leaders St Patrick’s Athletic - who they play at Oriel Park on Friday night - with a game in hand.
The Lilywhites were forced to plan without the services of captain Stephen O’Donnell and ex-Drogheda duo Darren Meehan and John Sullivan through suspension; in came John Dillon, Stephen McDonnell and Chris Shields, the latter making a surprise return after a knee injury.
Goalkeeper Gabriel Sava missed out through suspension for the Drogs so Michael Schlingermann deputised and Brian Gannon replaced Stephen Quigley in defence.
The home side started brightly with two ex-Dundalk players, Peter Hynes – with a free-kick that went well wide of Peter Cherrie’s left hand post – and Declan O’Brien threatening.
At the other end Hoban’s cross-cum-shot went straight across the six-yard box but unfortunately for Dundalk there was nobody to tap it home.
Half chances fell to either side before Dundalk created the best opening of the first half when Hoban was unfortunate to see his well directed header go just over the bar after good play between Richie Towell and Stephen McDonnell.
The visiting support were celebrating just before the break when Hoban somehow managed to squeeze the ball past Schlingermann from the tightest of angles.
However the linesman cut short the celebrations as he adjudged the ball to have ran out of play before Hoban got the vital touch. Subsequent TV replays showed that it was the wrong decision.
Drogheda appeared for the second-half with much more intent about their play and a Peter Hynes close range volley was brilliantly blocked by Chris Shields.
Cherrie then had to be quick off his line to deny O’Brien before the Scot pulled off arguably the save of the season to deny substitute Gary O’Neill’s bicycle kick from point blank range.
With the game becoming stretched, Dundalk broke, slightly against the run of play, to score the only goal of the game.
Stephen McDonnell picked up the ball and made a surging run into Drogheda’s half where he found Hoban. The former Mervue United man cut back onto his right foot and, from nine-yards out, sent a low shot into the bottom left hand corner giving Schlingermann absolutely no chance.
Dundalk had to play out the remaining seven minutes with ten men after John Mountney, who was booked in the first half for a foul, picked up a second yellow card after referee Alan Kelly adjudged him to have dived in the penalty area.
An onslaught from the home was expected but aside from a late penalty appeal against Shields, Cherrie and the Dundalk rearguard were never in any danger.
Referee Kelly blew the final whistle, much to the delight of the Dundalk supporters who made the short trip up the M1. Oriel Park promises to be rocking for the visit of league leaders St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Michael Schlingermann; Brian Gannon, Alan McNally, Alan Byrne, Shane Grimes; Cathal Brady (Graham Rusk 78), Paul O’Connor, Ryan Brennan, Jason Marks (Gavin Brennan 61); Peter Hynes (Gary O’Neil 61), Declan O’Brien. Unused subs: Evin Farrell (GK), Philip Hand, Dean Gaynor, Michael Daly
DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter, Andy Boyle, Chris Shields, Dane Massey; John Dillon (Eoghan Osborne 89), John Mountney, Richie Towell, Keith Ward (Tiarnan Mulvenna 55), Stephen McDonnell; Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 86). Unused Substitutes: Aaron Shanahan (GK), Kurtis Byrne, Ciaran O’Connor, John McKeown.
REFERE: Alan Kelly (Cork).