Shamrock Rovers' Lee Grace and Patrick Hoban of Dundalk FC. (Pic: Ciarán Culligan)
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Shamrock Rovers 2-5 Dundalk FC
Dundalk FC stretched the gap between themselves and Shamrock Rovers to 22 points at Tallaght Stadium tonight with a thrilling comeback victory.
Four second-half goals - each as clinically taken as the other - did the damage for Stephen Kenny's men, and what damage it could have done to Rovers' hopes of claiming a European place this season. Their eighth loss of the campaign, some home supporters called for boss Stephen Bradley's dismissal upon Robbie Benson's second goal, and Dundalk's fifth of the night.
Despite fielding the 10 of the team that demolished Bray Wanderers seven days earlier, with Dane Massey coming in for Dean Jarvis the sole switch, the Lilywhites started this one tentatively and trailed after just four minutes. A sloppy pass from Massey had Brian Gartland stretching, with the centre-half only able to divert back towards his own goal, wrong-footing 'keeper Gary Rogers in the process. The custodian clawed it off the line, though Rovers forward Dan Carr was able to poke home.
The striker had another glorious chance soon after, when heading straight at Rogers, and how pivotal that miss was the prove as, thereafter, Dundalk seized the initiative. Patrick Hoban's looping header after clever play by Michael Duffy levelled the encounter before the break.
Daniel Cleary put the Lilywhites ahead for the first time on 60 minutes, nodding Robbie Benson's precise delivery to the corner of the net before milking the celebrations in front of Bradley. The 22-year-old spent his pre-season with Rovers prior to signing for Dundalk.
The goal sparked the match to life as four further scores would arrive in a 13-minute spell. Massey atoned for the part he played in Rovers' opener by shooting low past Tomer Chencinski from 25 yards.
Roberto Lopes pulled one back for the Hoops after Brandon Kavanagh's shot had rattled the 'bar, though, within seconds, Benson reinstated Dundalk's two-goal buffer before he added his second on 77 minutes, driving beneath the stranded Chencinski from close range.
And it could have got worse for Rovers had substitute Marco Tagbajumi been able to find the net with a free header within a minute of his introduction.
Shamrock Rovers: Tomer Chencinski; Ethan Boyle, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace, Luke Byrne; Aaron Bolger (Brandon Kavanagh 70), Greg Bolger; Joel Coustrain, Ronan Finn (David McAllister HT), Seán Kavanagh; Dan Carr (Gary Shaw 25)
Subs not used: Gavin Bazunu (gk), Joey O'Brien, Ally Gilchrist, Dean Dillon
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Seán Hoare, Brian Gartland, Daniel Cleary, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson; Dylan Connolly (Krisztián Adorján 67), Jamie McGrath (Karolis Chvedukas 86), Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Marco Tagbajumi 88)
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Stephen Folan, Dean Jarvis, Ronan Murray
Referee: Ben Connolly (Dublin)