TIARNAN Mulvenna’s 87th minute strike broke Shelbourne hearts at Oriel Park on Friday night as Dundalk moved to within six points of the Airtricity League Premier Division summit with a 1-0 win.
Mulvenna, a 69th minute substitute for Vinny Faherty, latched on to a pass from captain Stephen O’Donnell to toe poke the ball through the legs of Shels keeper Ger Hanley and send the Carrick Road venue into raptures.
It was just rewards for Kenny’s men. Dundalk controlled the game for most of the 90 minutes but it looked like ten-man Shels, who had Brian Shortall sent off in the 78th minute, had done enough to hold on for a point.
Kenny again rotated his strikers with Vinny Faherty coming in to partner Kurtis Byrne in place of Patrick Hoban. There was two further changes to the side that lost 1-0 in Tallaght four days earlier; Eoghan Osborne and John Dillon replacing John Mountney and Darren Meenan respectively.
The visitors arrived with a host of players missing but they were able to recall the experienced duo of Graham Gartland and former Dundalk striker Philly Hughes.
Byrne looked dangerous playing on the shoulder of the Shelbourne defenders and he looked set to test Ger Hanley after just 30 seconds. After cutting out a poor pass by Stephen Hurley in the Shelbourne defensive third, John Dillon looked set to open the Reds up with a pass that looked destined for the striker’s feet but the ball carried too much pace and skipped behind.
Dundalk continued to try and exploit Byrne’s pace in behind Gartland and Shortall but they were left frustrated on a number of occasions by the offside flag of the referee’s assistant.
And despite holding the upper hand in the possession stakes, Dundalk failed to test Hanley. The former Dundalk goalkeeper was able to watch a Dane Massey header fly over in the 21st minute, the former Bray man rising highest to meet a Dillon corner after a neat bit of skill by Keith Ward had won the set piece.
Wide of the target
Ward flitted about in a bid to try and open Shels up and he almost did four minutes later, cutting in from the left past Ian Ryan only to guide his effort wide of the target.
The tempo of the game dropped for the remainder of the half and although the home side, with skipper Stephen O’Donnell driving them on, continued to ask questions Hanley remained largely untroubled as the game approached the half-time mark.
The young keeper did breathe a sigh of relief in the 42nd minute though when John Dillon jinked past Jack Memery to let fly with a vicious effort but thankfully for Hanley it went just over the top.
Much of Dundalk’s best football has come in the second-half of matches this season and they returned after the interval with the bit between their teeth.
Massey should have tested Hanley in the 47th minute, again getting up to meet a Dillon corner, but he could not get the required touch to direct the ball at goal.
The Lilywhites were almost in front just over 60 seconds later. Hanley, under pressure from Vinny Faherty, let a John Sullivan ball slip from his grasp but O’Donnell - who came through a crowd of bodies to win the rebound - was unlucky to see his effort hit the inside of the post.
Into the fray
Kenny threw Darren Meenan, Mulvenna and Patrick Hoban into the fray in a bid to grab the points and Mulvenna was involved in an incident that saw the visitors reduced to ten men in the 78th minute when Brian Shortall was shown a straight red for a nasty rake on the striker’s midriff.
Dundalk pushed forward in numbers after that and O’Donnell thought he had finally broken Shelbourne’s resistance with a fantastic left footed volley from 20-yards that dipped at the last minute and hit the top of the crossbar.
The visitors looked like they had done enough to secure a much needed point but Mulvenna popped up – for the third time off the bench this season - with three minutes to go to win the day for Dundalk.
And it could have been more with Richie Towell – with an audacious 45-yard effort – and Darren Meenan both going close in the latter stages.
The full-time whistle blew soon after to secure Dundalk their first back to back wins at Oriel Park since October 2010 and leave the Shels fans calling for Alan Mathews’ head.
DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Eoghan Osborne; John Dillon, Stephen O’Donnell ©, Richie Towell, Keith Ward (Darren Meenan 63); Vinny Faherty (Tiarnan Mulvenna 69), Kurtis Byrne (Patrick Hoban 75). Subs not used: John Mountney, Ciaran O’Connor, Stephen McDonnell, Aaron Shanahan (GK).
SHELBOURNE: Ger Hanley; Ian Ryan ©, Graham Gartland, Brian Shortall, Jack Memery; Craig Mooney (Stephen Sheeran 72), Stephen Hurley (Alex Prizeman 55), Pat Flynn, Sean Brennan; Mark Leech, Philip Hughes. Subs not used: Philip McCabe, Adam O’Connor, Darren Tinnelly, Jake Donnelly, Eoin Comerford.
REFEREE: Alan Kelly (Cork).