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04 Oct 2022

Dundalk's title challenge up in flames as Shamrock Rovers coast to victory

Dundalk's title challenge up in flames as Shamrock Rovers coast to victory

Robbie Benson of Dundalk in action against Ronan Finn of Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division

Shamrock Rovers 3-0 Dundalk

Dreams of an SSE Airtricity League title are all but over for Dundalk FC after they suffered a heavy 3-0 defeat to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Sunday evening.

Three identical and avoidable goals, scored by Aaron Greene, Richie Towell and Rory Gaffney has the table-toppers – now seven points clear of second-placed Dundalk with a game in hand – dreaming of a third successive League of Ireland championship success.

It was a difficult night at the office for Dundalk, who were up against it right from the off.

In addition to Daniel Kelly and Paul Doyle, they were without the suspended Andy Boyle and injured Patrick Hoban. Replacing them was Robbie McCourt, making his full debut in defence, and John Martin, while Robbie Benson made his first start in over a month.

Rovers almost hit the front inside one minute as the Dundalk backline were caught napping on a Lee Grace ball from the left, which allowed Ronan Finn to collect, but he subsequently volleyed over from close range when it looked easier to hit the target.

The visitors had their first attempt on five minutes through Martin, who diverted a backwards header off target after getting on the end of a Steven Bradley left-field cross.

However, it was Rovers who took the lead on 13 minutes when McCourt was caught out and left on the floor by Gaffney, and he squared it for Greene, who had all the time and space in the world before picking his spot to convert and make it 1-0 to The Hoops.

Gaffney was teasing the Dundalk rearguard, taking several touches inside the box, before turning and firing a low shot straight into the untroubled arms of Nathan Shepperd.

The Lilywhites, wearing their all-red strip, were dealt another blow when McCourt pulled up injured and was replaced by Keith Ward, with Stephen O’Donnell having to move skipper Benson out to left-full, while Darragh Leahy was moved into central-defence.

Bradley had started in a free role but was now moved back into his orientational right-wing berth, and he took his time before curling over the top of Alan Mannus’ crossbar.

With Dundalk forced to reshuffle yet again, Rovers were taking full advantage, and a Towell cross was then planted into the safe hands of Shepperd by the head of Gaffney. 

Rovers doubled their lead on 34 minutes when the Dundalk defence was caught cold once more – this time it was Greene that squared it for Towell to finish at the back post.

Dundalk had chances to get themselves back into the contest before the half-time break, with Martin forcing the experienced Mannus into two decent blocks at his near post.

In between those efforts, Greg Sloggett collected a neat pass from Ward and found himself in space before firing straight down the throat of Mannus from distance.

Both teams had chances early in the second period, with Bradley dragging a shot wide for Dundalk from outside the area, while at the other end, Shepperd had to brilliantly push away an attempt from Gary O’Neill after he was cleverly slipped in by Gaffney.

Mannus may be 40, but the goalkeeper has arguably been Rovers’ star performer this year, and he again showed his worth as he marvellously clawed away a Ward free kick.

A goal there for Dundalk would have made it a grandstand finish, but instead it was Rovers who added a killer-third on 67 minutes when on the break, Greene raced past Sam Bone before squaring it for Gaffney to bag the goal his performance deserved.

Mannus produced another top-class save late on as Dundalk searched for a consolation, this time using his fingertips to foil Benson, who had just unleashed a thunderbolt strike.

The Rovers netminder wasn’t giving up his clean sheet easily, and he produced a fine double-save on 90 minutes to deny both Ward and David McMillan in quick succession. 

Jack Byrne curled over for The Hoops in stoppage-time before at the opposite end, Mannus once again denied Dundalk as he somehow got to a Joe Adams toe-poke.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Hoare, Daniel Cleary (Justin Ferizaj 79), Lee Grace; Ronan Finn (Neil Farrugia 59), Dylan Watts (Sean Kavanagh 68), Gary O’Neill, Andy Lyons; Richie Towell, Aaron Greene (Jack Byrne 68), Rory Gaffney (Aidomo Emakhu 68)

Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Sean Gannon, Gideon Tetteh

Dundalk FC: Nathan Shepperd; Lewis Macari, Sam Bone, Robbie McCourt (Keith Ward 26), Darragh Leahy (John Mountney 73); Greg Sloggett (Joe Adams 64), Alfie Lewis; Robbie Benson, Steven Bradley, Ryan O’Kane (Runar Hauge HT); John Martin (David McMillan 64)

Subs not used: Peter Cherrie (gk), Mark Byrne (gk)

Referee: Robert Harvey (Dublin)

Attendance: 5,525

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