STEPHEN O’Donnell’s late header helped to guide Dundalk to their first away win of the season as the Lilywhites recovered from going a goal behind to beat ten man Shelbourne at Tolka Park on Friday night.
O’Donnell ghosted in behind the Shels defence to instinctively guide a close range header to the net to put Dundalk 2-1 ahead with just five minutes to go.
Shels had taken a one goal lead into the half-time break thanks to Dean Kelly’s header but when John Dillon restored parity from the penalty spot in the 55th minute, Dundalk regained momentum and deservedly went in front through O’Donnell.
And substitute John Mountney ensured the Lilywhites ended a 14-year wait for a Premier Division victory at Tolka Park by completing the scoring in stoppage time.
Lilywhites boss Stephen Kenny made just one change to the side which drew with Shamrock Rovers on the opening day of the season with Eoghan Osborne replacing the suspended Dane Massey at left-back.
Chris Shields, who endured a nightmare in the corresponding fixture last season - a game which proved to be Sean McCaffrey’s last in charge of the club - made his first appearance in a Dundalk squad this season, the number five named amongst the subs.
The visitors knocked the ball about confidently early on with Patrick Hoban, John Dillon and former Shels player John Sullivan all impressive.
Dillon almost unlocked the Shels defence after just eight minutes when he found Hoban with a great pass but the former Mervue United striker’s left footed effort just crept wide of Rob Burdon’s post.
Burdon did well for the Reds in their EA Sports Cup tie defeat at Oriel Park four nights earlier and the Irish underage international was called into action again six minutes later.
It was the same duo involved for Dundalk. Dillon’s looping ball to the back post had Burdon back-peddling. Hoban rose to meet it but impeded the former Stade Rennes man as he bundled the ball over the line.
That came just seconds after Peter Cherrie had to gather a Mark Leech header from Philly Hughes’ left wing centre; Shels’ first real attack of note.
A sign of Dundalk’s intent could be seen by the ambition of both full-backs with Sullivan and Eoghan Osborne bombing forward into opposition territory at every opportunity.
Kenny’s decision to play Sullivan at right-back certainly raised eyebrows when it was announced, as was his deployment of Mark Rossiter at centre-back.
Kenny’s assertion that the former Bohs man possesses the positional sense to master the role certainly looked on the mark with the Sligo native showing his anticipation with two great clearances in quick succession.
The first came in the 27th minute after Shels had got in behind Osborne on the right flank. Adam Hanlon’s ball looked set for Leech before the Lilywhites vice captain intervened. Minutes later he was in the right place again, denying Hughes the opportunity of a clear run on goal.
Dundalk kept probing and they went close again in the 37th minute. Dillon’s cross-field pass found Byrne in space between the Shels full-back and centre-backs but Burdon was again equal to the task.
Kenny’s men look comfortable but the wind was taken from their sails with three bookings in quick succession for Stephen O’Donnell, Eoghan Osborne and Patrick Hoban.
O’Donnell’s caution came for a foul on Graham Gartland. Referee Anthony Buttimer was quick to reach for his card and for a split second there was a feeling it could be red. Thankfully for the Dundalk skipper it was yellow.
Gartland was slightly fortunate himself not to be booked for a crude tackle on Dillon in the 42nd minute that left Dillon requiring treatment and the Dundalk bench up in arms.
With the flow gone from the game, it looked like half-time would arrive with the game locked at 0-0 but the home side edged in front after 44 minutes when Dean Kelly headed past the helpless Peter Cherrie after Mark Leech had found space for a cross. The goal ending Dundalk’s run of four games without conceding a goal.
The hosts opened the second-half on the front foot and Philly Hughes had a sighting of goal in the 46th minute after cutting in from the left but he blazed wildly over.
Dundalk found their right flank an avenue of joy throughout but Sullivan misplaced two crosses from decent positions early in the second-half as the Lilywhites pushed for an equaliser.
The game’s turning point arrived in the 52nd minute when Cherrie made a fantastic save to deny Philip Hughes. Dillon - who tired in the second-half - gave the ball away to Adam Hanlon some 30-yards from goal. The Shels winger shifted it to Hughes but his curling effort was brilliantly pushed over the bar by the Scottish goalkeeper.
The save turned out to be even more crucial as Dundalk pulled level just three minutes later. Keith Ward – making his 50th appearance for the club - was the architect, his first touch taking him past right-back Rob Cornwall and into the penalty area.
Ward’s momentum meant he had the advantage over the incoming Ian Ryan and when the little midfielder pushed the ball past the defender and went over his outstretched leg there was no other result but a penalty. Up stepped Dillon to drive the ball past Burdon to make it 1-1.
Buoyed on by the vocal away following in the 1099 crowd, Dundalk smelled blood. Another great pass by Dillon sent the hard working Kurtis Byrne through for a shot but his effort lacked onviction.
Off the hook
With the game ebbing and flowing, the visitors were let off the hook in the 66th minute. Cherrie came to head a ball outside his box with the ball reaching the feet of Richie Towell. However his pass to the right was cut out by Leech who glided a first time effort just off target.
Kenny played his hand by introducing Vinny Faherty, Darren Meenan and John Mountney from the bench and the trio added fresh impetus to Dundalk’s attack in the final 15 minutes.
Gartland and Brian Shortall were booked by Buttimer as the Oriel Park side continued to dictate the pattern of the game and they were unlucky not to go in front in the 80th minute when Byrne, who was outstanding on the night, cracked the woodwork with an audacious drive.
The home side were reduced to ten men with seven minutes to go when Gartland was shown a second yellow card for a mistimed tackle on O’Donnell; the Shels defender could have had no complaints about the decision.
Dundalk continued to pile on the pressure and they got their just rewards in the 86th minute. Darren Meenan’s cross from the right deflected straight into the path of O’Donnell and the former Shamrock Rovers man guided a great header into the top corner to send the visiting fans into raptures.
The icing was put on the cake in time added on when Mountney broke through the Shels back four to squeeze his effort past Burdon to give Dundalk their first points on the road in 2013.
SHELBOURNE: Niall Bourdon; Rob Cornwall, Graham Gartland, Ian Ryan, Brian Shortall (Philip McCabe 83); Adam Hanlon, Sean Brennan (Stephen Hurley 67), Robert Bayly, Dean Kelly (Craig Mooney 74); Philip Hughes, Mark Leech. Unused subs: Eoin Comerford, Adam O’Connor, Stephen Sheerin, Alex Prizeman.
DUNDALK FC: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan, Mark Rossiter, Andy Boyle, Eoghan Osborne; John Dillon (John Mountney 75), Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell; Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 65), Keith Ward (Darren Meenan 69), Kurtis Byrne. Unused subs: Chris Shields, Tiarnan Mulvenna, Stephen McDonnell, Aaron Shanahan (GK).
REFEREE: Anthony Buttimer.