DUNDALK’S amazing start to the season continued as Patrick Hoban’s 51st minute header propelled the Lilywhites to their fifth straight away victory at the Carlisle Grounds on Friday night.
Hoban got up to power a Darren Meenan corner past Bray goalkeeper Darren Quigley to claim his second goal in as many games and maintain Dundalk’s place in 4th position of the Airtricity League Premier Division.
The result leaves Dundalk with 21 points after the first series of games, a haul that they could not even match after 30 games in 2012!
If the victories in recent weeks have been built on flamboyant football, this result showcased another facet of Kenny’s team.
A poor first-half, littered with too many individual errors, did little to warm the hearts of the big traveling support but, for the third game in succession, the back four looked solid and limited Bray Wanderers to little more than half chances.
The drive and tempo associated with the side in recent weeks returned in patches during the second-half and when Hoban gave the Lilywhites something to hold onto, they never looked like letting go.
And when referee Dave McKeon’s full-time whistle went, it signified the first time that Dundalk have put together a three match winning run for the first time since May 2011.
Kenny made two changes to the side that secured the first home win of the season against Cork City in the previous outing.
Hoban was rewarded for two impressive substitute appearances in the victories over Bohemians and Cork City, the latter in which he scored, with a place in the attack beside Tiarnan Mulvenna. John Dillon returned from suspension with John Mountney dropping to the bench.
Backed by a vociferous away following, who availed of a special discounted train service, Dundalk were looking to maintain their 100% record on the road.
However their early passing was sloppy and uncharacteristic from the displays of recent weeks. Even the likes of Stephen O’Donnell and Richie Towell, both usually excellent with possession, weren’t immune to the errors, much to the frustration of the visiting fans and their manager.
As a result, the opening half an hour was devoid of chances. Keith Ward hit two efforts over the bar that caused more trouble to the vehicles in the car park behind the goals than Bray goalkeeper Quigley.
At the other end, Bray didn’t fare any better although a John Mulroy half volley which dipped over the top in the 34th minute did muster a bit of life from the crowd.
The first-half was summed up in the 41st minute when John Dillon floated a Dundalk corner straight out of play.
Kenny reacted to the first half display by introducing Darren Meenan and Kurtis Byrne for Dillon and Tiarnan Mulvenna respectively at the break.
Another arrival at half-time was the rain. And the conditions almost left Peter Cherrie red faced in the 48th minute, the goalkeeper slipping on his backside just outside the penalty area. Thankfully, for Cherrie and Dundalk, Andy Boyle was on hand to clear the danger.
Going forward, there was a sense of purpose about Dundalk now and they pulled in front after 51 minutes. A decent spell of possession led to a corner which Meenan curled in from the left and Hoban rose highest to thump a header past Quigley.
That opened the game up and Cherrie had to stand firm to block a Kevin Knight drive four minutes later after John Mulroy’s cross had found the left-back at the far post.
Set-pieces were proving to be a problem for the home side and Dundalk almost profited again in the 62nd minute. Another Meenan delivery caused trouble in the Seagulls penalty area, the ball dropping for Ward who saw his effort held by Quigley.
Kenny’s side shifted the ball around a lot quicker than in the first-half and they should have doubled their lead in the 65th minute. Sullivan picked out Hoban with a cross from the right but the former Mervue United man fluffed his header, unmarked from six-yards.
Bray struggled to get back into things and Cherrie was largely untroubled as the game approached the final 15 minutes.
The Seagulls showed flickering signs of life in the remaining minutes though and Mulroy did find space for a shot in the 74th minute but his shot lacked conviction and was blocked by Boyle.
Their best chance of finding a leveler arrived seven minutes later when the excellent Dane Massey was penalised for a foul on Gary Dempsey, 20-yards from goal.
Dave Webster, who broke Dundalk hearts with an injury time equaliser in the corresponding fixture last season, stepped up but his shot flew well off target and Kenny’s side had another three points to bank.
BRAY WANDERERS: Darren Quigley; Eoin Hyland, David Webster, Paul Malone, Conor Early; Kieran Marty Waters, Gary Dempsey, Kevin Knight (Shane O’Neill 71), John Mulroy (Daire Doyle 84), Dean Zambra; Jason Byrne © (Ishmahil Akinade 67). Unused subs: Shane O’Connor, Danny Joyce, Adam Cox, Sean Holmes (GK).
DUNDALK FC: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan, Andy Boyle, Mark Rossiter, Dane Massey; John Dillon (Darren Meenan HT), Keith Ward, Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell ©; Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 78), Tiarnan Mulvenna (Kurtis Byrne HT). Unused subs: John Mountney, Eoghan Osborne, Stephen McDonnell, Aaron Shanahan (GK). REFEREE: Dave McKeon (Dublin).