24 Sept 2022

The Commentary Box: Dundalk fall into bruising world of a relegation dogfight

The Commentary Box: Dundalk fall into bruising world of a relegation dogfight

Cameron Dunnigan bandaged up during the SSE Airtricity League match between Dundalk and Drogheda United. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Dundalk sit in the relegation play off zone in the league following their 2-1 defeat to Drogheda United at Oriel Park on Friday night. It came as no surprise to me at all that this was going to happen as Dundalk’s domestic league form has not been good in recent times.

They went into the game just two points clear of the dreaded play off zone. Now they are firmly in there, they will do well to get out of it.

To sum up the game Dundalk were terrible. Drogheda, who came into the game with just one win in their last seven games, were by far the better side. The post-match news that Patrick McEleney will be out for eight weeks following his hamstring injury against Derry is a massive blow.

It could in effect mean he may not play for the rest of the season. And with Patrick heading to Derry next season, we may have seen the last of him in a black and white jersey. Hopefully not, but it must be a possibility.

David McMillan has an ankle injury picked up in the Brandywell last Sunday. He was stretchered off in that game. He looks set to be out for a prolonged period while Daniel Cleary suffered a dead leg. But it is not yet known how long he could be out.

David McMillan has had one scan but as of Friday night the club were waiting for him to get a second scan.

Dundalk were very weak in defence from the start and when Sonni Nattestad came on for Cleary things went from just bad to worse. New goalkeeper Cameron Yates was on the subs bench on Friday.

At one stage it looked as if he was coming on early in the game when Alessio Abibi went down injured. Cameron had his tracksuit off ready to come on. Alessio was on his feet and was Ok. Cameron never made a dramatic entrance.

Peter Cherrie has barely had a look in at the goalie position since he returned. I find that amazing given that Alessio’s performances have not been great all season, bar the game against Vitesse in the first leg.

Cherrie deserved his chance but was not given it. Instead, Dundalk signed another keeper and Cherrie is left in the stands.

A Relegation Play Off?

Three weeks ago, I said on social media that Dundalk would get sucked into the relegation play off zone when they were just two points clear of it. Now that they are there, they will find it hard to climb free even though they have games in hand.

The big difference is Harps and Waterford are winning all their games. The Lilywhites have developed that losing cycle which is very hard to get out of. If they do have to settle for the play-off spot, they will find it very hard to play against Galway or Bray or even Cork City in a play-off.

How ironic it would be if they had to play John Caulfield’s Galway United. Caulfield was manager of Cork City during the great rivalry we had against the Leesiders during the Kenny era.

I know I am painting the worst picture. But Dundalk fans must come to terms with the fact that a team with a budget of four million euro could easily slip into the First Division.

And Vinny Perth told the media after the game that Dundalk fans must not take it for granted that they will have it easy in the FAI cup next Friday against a non-league side such as Saint Mochtas next Friday.

Perth says they are one of the better sides at that level. Firing out a warning shot, Perth stated that Mochtas would be a top first division side if they were in it. He said in many ways he would have preferred for Dundalk to have drawn someone else.

The Drogheda Game

Drogheda came into the game hit with the death in a road accident the day before of their under 14 coach David Conroy. David’s family are steeped in Drogheda United and his family were all in Oriel for the game on Friday.

The family were comforted before and after the game by the Drogheda players. United had not beaten Dundalk in their last 10 meetings. Their last win at Oriel was 2012. On Friday they got that monkey off their back with ease as they were much the better of the teams.

Dundalk’s new signing Sami Ben Amar had a poor debut giving away both goals. A pass from Amar to nobody was intercepted by Darragh Markey. He slipped the ball to Mark Doyle. He skipped past Andy Boyle and Ben Amar before firing past the helpless Abibi.

The visitors increased their lead on 57 minutes when Conor Kane and Mark Doyle played a great one-two. Kane pumped a cross into the box. Doyle unmarked had the easiest of chances to head home.

Michael Duffy did get a goal back for Dundalk within three minutes. But the Drogs had no problem in holding out for a comfortable win.

Vinny Perth has always been realistic and always said that with him back as manager he had not yet steadied the ship. Well, the ship has hit the rocks and is heading for the relegation trap door.

The Dundalk Midfield

Last week in Derry, a city supporter said to me Dundalk made a terrible decision letting Chris Shields go halfway through the season. He could not believe how poor Dundalk’s midfield was and that Shields had left a major hole there since his departure.

The Derry supporter was one hundred per cent right and yet I explained to him the club were right to let him go as he had been a great servant to Dundalk and owed the club nothing. I still agree with the decision.

But Shields should not have been let go without an adequate replacement. That was never done and the big man who could play centre half or midfield is really missed. With Patrick McEleney now out for so long the engine room is gone in the centre of midfield.

And with Daniel Cleary out again there is no Chris Shields to fill the centre half position. Sonni Nattestad is just simply not good enough. And with Alessio Abibi in goals along with Nattestad at centre half Dundalk are very unsteady at the back. Nobody can deny that.

I’m afraid the decision to let Chris Shields go could come back to really haunt the powers that be in Oriel as Dundalk sit in the play-off place. The relegation play-off grim reaper was back at Oriel for the first time since 2012 as the clouds darken at the club.

The same Grim Reaper had the doors shut firmly in its face when the Lilywhites beat Waterford in the play-offs. The Reaper will be back again before the end of the season. It’s up to the club to get away from the drop zone to ensure it does not return.

Perth’s Thoughts

Perth accepted that there were no excuses as to where the club find themselves currently. He felt his side are conceding a lot of goals recently and that it was a problem. He said the supporters had been let down in recent weeks and that was not acceptable.

The Dundalk boss says the scars of Europe are really hurting the team for many reasons. Perth stated he was not thinking of Dundalk being in a relegation position. He was not a scrapper and does not work like that.

He said until he reckons Dundalk are in a relegation situation, he will continue what he is doing. Vinny said the players must also take some responsibility but clarified that Drogheda were worthy winners.

He says Europe is not paramount for the rebuilding of the club. Dundalk, he feels are a long way from that right now. But he still believes that his side on their day can beat anybody.

Val Adedokun’s move to Brentford was due to go through at the weekend. Vinny said it was great news. He praised his former underage coach Tiarnan Mulvenna for persuading him to get Val to sign professionally with Dundalk in 2019.

Another youth team player Mayowa Animasahun has also signed professionally with the club. This is great news for the club. They will get a transfer fee for Val from Brentford and there will be a considerable amount of add ons from it for Dundalk.

There was a minute silence before the game in memory of the late Tommy Connolly and also for Drogheda under 14 coach David Conroy. The minute silence was also held in memory of supporters Damian McConnon and Eamon McConville.

Perth said on the Dundalk FC Twitter page that he can’t defend himself. He says he can’t defend recruitment and he could not defend the club on Friday night.

On Dan Cleary he clarified that he got a bang on the injured leg, but it was not the same injury as he had before.

The Dubliner stated he could understand fans being angry, but that Dundalk deserve to be in the league position they are in as they have not been good enough over the season.

Perth says they need to get over Europe. It really affected the team in terms of injury and confidence. Amazingly Perth said it would always take a week or two to get over the European run.

But critically he said they need to get over it now as they were running out of excuses. I don’t accept the getting over Europe quote as a reason for Dundalk’s run of poor form in the league. They are a full-time outfit with by far the highest budget in the history of the League of Ireland.

The simple fact is that some of the players the club signed are just not good enough for the league. There are four or five who I would have on this list.

The Drogheda View

Drogheda United manager Tim Clancy said he was very happy with the result. They had worked hard for the 90 minutes and got the three precious points. He was delighted with Neil Doyle getting two goals. He said that as a player on the left wing he has scored 10 goals.

The Drogs boss felt the performance from Mark Doyle was special and indeed his team put in a great showing. He said that Drogheda had to soak up a lot of pressure but that they were able to hit Dundalk very well on the counter-attack. This is exactly what the visitors did.

They were able to tear through the Dundalk midfield and defence when they swarmed forward. Dundalk have the third worst defence in the league, conceding 34 goals in 23 games. They have the seventh best scoring record bagging 27 goals in those 23 games.

Tim Clancy said Michael Duffy’s goal ensured Drogheda had to battle hard to hold onto their lead. But clarified that the pressure was not yet over for his side as far as the relegation play offs are concerned, even though they were now six points clear of the danger zone which Dundalk occupy.

He revealed that the late David Conroy’s three sons were all at the game on Friday night. Pictures emerged online later of the Drogheda players comforting the late Mr Conroy’s children to great emotions and tears online.

Tim Clancy told me the children followed the club up and down the country with their father. Tim’s words said everything. The bravery of those three young children attending a game just 24 hours after their dad died in an accident was heart-breaking and puts all the silly things we say in our lives into perspective.

Final thoughts

So next week it’s an FAI cup round Two clash against non-league Saint Mochtas. But beware Dundalk supporters, the result is not a forgone conclusion. As Vinny Perth said in the post-match press conference, it’s going to be a tough game.

Oriel was a bleak place after the game and it was left to Vinny Perth to come out and talk to the waiting press. Dundalk are now in their worst league position since 2012. This club needs to be rebuilt from top to bottom.

If they do go into the First Division, it would be a disaster. But anyone who thinks Dundalk are too good to go down are not being honest with themselves.

Friday night post-match Oriel felt just like it was in March 1999 and March 2002 and that was on the run in to relegation in both seasons. Anyway, it’s the 2nd round of the cup next week. I feel we could have a major shock on our hands. Have a good week.

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