Dundalk FC manager Stephen Kenny. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Waterford FC 2-1 Dundalk FC
The last time Dundalk FC departed the RSC, they were celebrating the retention of their Premier Division status. Five-and-a-half years later, on their first return, they lost for the second away game on the trot.
A frantic finish to the first half - with ten stoppage time minutes - produced all three goals, including a match-winning double for Waterford's Izzy Akinade. While the defeat was compounded by a serious-looking injury to Dundalk captain Stephen O'Donnell, which proved the main instigator to the longer-than-normal opening period. The midfielder came out on the wrong side of a challenge with Stanley Aborah, falling to the ground immediately in some discomfort before being stretchered off. Daniel Cleary was also taken off at the break through injury.
Two goals from Akinade - so often the Lilywhites' menace - had Waterford heading for half-time in complete control. But a wonder free-kick from Ronan Murray - in the last play of the half - halved the deficit to the minimum. And the Lilywhites had multiple opportunities to not alone secure a share of the spoils, but win the match before the close.
In what already looks like being a topsy-turvy title race, the loss hands Cork the chance to return to the summit against Limerick FC tomorrow afternoon.
Stephen Kenny - who kept faith with the same XI that hammered St. Patrick's Athletic, 5-0, on Monday night - must be wondering how his team found themselves trailing considering the control they had for lengthy spells. Though, despite their neat play, Lawrence Vigouroux was never forced into action either side of picking Murray's wicked drive out of the net in the ninth additional minute of the first half.
Waterford - and Akinade - on the other hand, looked a lot more threatening, particularly when attacking down the right flank. In saying that, the goals were inherently avoidable on the visitors' part. Firstly, 'keeper Gary Rogers was beaten in the air by Akinade, leaving an empty net for the ball to trickle into. While the second saw the striker pick out the bottom corner as the Dundalk defence were caught off-guard once more.
Akinade could even have had the match ball by the interval with Rogers pulling off a fine flying save from the forward's header when the match was scoreless.
Referee Derek Tomney drew his fair share of criticism from the home support for his decision making throughout, however, the Lilywhites were left reeling - and rightly so - early in the second half when the official chose to book Michael Duffy for simulation despite the winger having been tumbled in the penalty area.
That incident came shy of the hour-mark and despite several goalmouth scrambles and plenty of huffing and puffing, Waterford held out somewhat comfortably during the final 30 minutes. Robbie Benson and Duffy had great opportunities to equalise, while Chris Shields forced Vigouroux to spectacularly tip over deep into overtime.
The Blues, however, held out amidst a deafening cheer at full-time.
Waterford FC: Lawrence Vigouroux; Dylan Barnett, Rory Feely, David Webster, Garry Comerford; Paul Keegan; Stanley Aborah (John Martin 69), Bastien Hery; Gavin Holohan; Izzy Akinade, Courtney Duffus (Sander Puri 84)
Subs not used: Niall Corbet (gk); Dean Walsh, Faysel Kasmi, Dean O'Halloran, Dean Walsh
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Seán Hoare, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary (Jamie McGrath HT), Dean Jarvis; Stephen O'Donnell (Chris Shields 45), Robbie Benson; John Mountney, Ronan Murray (Dylan Connolly 63), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Dane Massey, Krisztián Adorján, Marco Tagbajumi
Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin)