LIAM Burns looked to the positives after acknowledging that Dundalk played their best football of the season in the opening half of Saturday’s defeat by his old club Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds.
But the experienced defender, far and away the side’s oldest player at 33, knows his young teammates will have to learn quickly and he is hoping that they can show their form from the weekend over the course of a full game soon.
Dundalk had a number of chances to take the lead in Sligo, with Shane O’Neill spurning the best of them on the quarter-hour mark.
However, in the end, it was the experience and clinical finishing of the title challengers that proved the difference, as two quick goals after half-time turned the game completely in the hosts’ favour.
But Burns also lamented Stephen McDonnell’s miss shortly after Sligo had made it 2-0. And, while encouraged by the signs, the Belfast-born defender knows that the game is “not played over 45 minutes”.
Reflecting on the game afterwards, Burns said: “We’re disappointed with the result but 3-0 didn’t reflect the game, especially after the first half.
“We played some good football and we had loads of chances. We had four or five great openings, and at half-time you could hear some boos for them coming off. Their fans expected to turn us over comfortably, but in the first half we were the better team. It was disappointing. If we had to go into the break only 1-0 up, we would have even been disappointed. We can take heart from the performance.
“We’re delighted with the first-half performance, but the game is 90 minutes, and the sooner we can put in a performance for the whole game the better. We had some great chances. I think if you ask Shane yourself, he knows he should have scored, especially after scoring against UCD the week before – he would have been in confident mood. But that’s strikers – you live and die by your chances. He’s a quality striker and hopefully he’ll get another chance like that against Shelbourne and he can put it away.
“We knew that Sligo were going to come out for the second half fired up and get at us straight away. We were disappointed with our start to the second half. We gave the ball away four or five times. We were disappointed with our possession, and that gave them more impetus to push on.
“The first goal was one of those shots where if he had connected cleanly it probably would have sailed into Peter’s (Cherrie) hands. It was just one of those scuffy ones that went across the box. It seemed like Danny North came out of nowhere – maybe I could have done better and Ben (McLaughlin) could have done better – but it’s just one of those shots you have got to look out for.
“The second was a good delivery but we were disappointed to concede from a set-piece. I think even at 2-0 down, we were still in the game. In previous years, we were 2-0 down in Sligo and came back.
“The third goal in the game was always going to be important. We had one or two clear-cut chances that we didn’t take again. Stevie had a great chance. It was a massive miss, especially at 2-0, which can be a dangerous lead. If we had brought it back to 2-1, we would have been on the front foot and they may have started to panic. In the end, they got it, and the scoreline didn’t look very good.
“If you looked at our fans’ reaction at the end, you could see their appreciation for the effort the lads gave. If you look over the whole 90 minutes, especially in the first half, we can be very pleased with our performance. But, at the end of the day, the game isn’t played over 45 minutes.
“But every week, you can see we’re improving and we’re starting to gel. Once we get everyone in come June – because there are a few lads away during the week with college and that – you’ll see a better team.”