The top two teams in the country from last year met in the final game before the mid-season break at Oriel Park on Friday night and, on this evidence, there will be little to choose between Dundalk and St Patrick’s Athletic again come the end of this season.
A hard, tough 0-0 draw which saw both sides finish the game with ten men might not have appealed to the purists but it showed just how evenly matched the current league leaders and reigning champions are.
Dundalk, looking to extend their lead over Pat’s to nine points, had the numerical advantage after 66 minutes when Pat’s were reduced to ten men. Ken Oman, booked in the 50th minute, was shown a straight red card by referee Neil Doyle for a high tackle on Dundalk substitute John Mountney.
Parity was restored just four minutes later however. A bout of handbags between Pat’s sub - an ex Lilywhite Player of the Year - Derek Foran and David McMillan in the far corner ended with Foran hitting the deck and McMillan heading for the tunnel.
The result - the first time Dundalk have been involved in a scoreless draw since March 8, 2013 - sends Dundalk into the break sitting top of the table, three points ahead of Cork City and six ahead of third placed Pat’s.
Both sides came into the game on the back of some free scoring form but it was the respective back fours who earned the plaudits on this occasion.
Dundalk, in keeping with their recent form, exploded from the traps but were met head on by a stubborn Pat’s back line.
Three minutes had elapsed when the natives came closest to breaking through. Despite showing a heavy touch, Darren Meenan burst away from Chris Forrester with ease on the right. His low cross cum shot flashed across the goal, missing McMillan - by mere centimeters - at the back post.
Meenan was involved again soon after, setting Daryl Horgan away on the right before collecting the return. Unfortunately for Dundalk, he couldn’t adjust his body and the shot floated wide.
After withstanding the early pressure, Pat’s warmed to the task and Chris Forrester should have done better with an effort in the 21st minute. Dane Massey’s clearance bounced off Killian Brennan and kindly into Forrester’s path but he snatched at his half volley.
The visiting support were given more encouragement five minutes later. Byrne’s corner was met by a thunderous Kenny Browne header that Massey blocked on the line. From the ensuing scramble, Pat’s had loud appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Doyle.
With both teams giving nothing away, the first half came to an end in scrappy fashion. Brennan, needlessly booked for dissent, dipped an effort over Cherrie’s bar before the Scottish goalkeeper was left sweating by a thunderous Byrne effort that just cleared the bar in stoppage time.
The second-half saw both goalkeepers relatively underemployed again.
Dundalk were almost architects of their own downfall in the 55th minute. Brian Gartland caught the excellent Mark Rossiter short with a slack pass and when the Lilywhites skipper saw his attempted clearance blocked, both Chambers and Forrester had bites of the cherry without finding the target.
The two dismissals set up a cagey final 20 minutes with both sides reluctant to leave the door open at the back.
Dundalk full-back Sean Gannon almost broke the stalemate, his right footed drive whistling just past Brendan Clarke’s post.
Pat’s boss Liam Buckley introduced Mark Quigley as the game approached the final 10 minutes and the former Dundalk striker almost made a big impression.
Seconds after coming on, Conor McCormack picked the striker out with a deft cross from the right but Quigley couldn’t connect. His attempt two minutes later was better, forcing Cherrie to scramble to his right to save, ensuring a share of the spoils.