Stephen O’Donnell popped up with a captain’s goal in the 91st minute to break Coleraine hearts and put Dundalk into the semi-finals of the Setanta Cup at The Showgrounds on Monday night.
Three two down from the first leg, Patrick Hoban’s 51st minute goal pulled Dundalk level on aggregate but, even though they penned the Bannsiders into their own half for the remainder of the game, it looked like Stephen Kenny’s men would win the battle on the night but, ultimately, lose the war.
That all changed in stoppage time when O’Donnell’s 25-yard effort skidded off the surface to beat Eugene Ferry at his left hand post and send the visiting support into raptures.
Kenny made four changes to the side that was beaten in emphatic fashion against Drogheda United three nights earlier. Mark Rossiter made a welcome return at right-back while Darren Meenan, John Mountney and David McMillan all started. Ruaidhri Higgins, Daryl Horgan, Sean Gannon and Kurtis Byrne all paid the price for their under par display in United Park by being dropped to the bench.
A bumpy pitch meant attractive football was rare in the first-half.
Coleraine had the best of the half chances that were created with an Eoin Bradley header sending Peter Cherrie scurrying across his line after just three minutes.
The Scot was called into action again nine minutes later, back peddling to gather Gareth Tommons’ first-time volley which looked, for a brief second, to be looping over the Dundalk goalkeeper.
Dundalk’s urgency to get back into the tie was evident and Stephen Kenny even acted as ball boy to speed the play up. Their play, however, lacked fluidity and the half-time whistle blew with Eugene Ferry rarely troubled in the Coleraine goal.
Richie Towell’s drive from distance after just 12 minutes was as close as Dundalk got, Ferry getting down to his right to turn the ball round his post.
Cherrie had to act as sweeper in the 26th minute to sweep up and deny Gareth Tommons from catching a David McDaid pass after Coleraine sprung a quick counter attack from a Dundalk free-kick.
The visitors’ best move of the half came 10 minutes later. A good break saw O’Donnell set John Mountney haring away down the right. His cross had pace but it was slightly behind Hoban who couldn’t direct it towards goal.
The second-half began in different fashion for Dundalk and they levelled the aggregate score after 51 minutes.
Dane Massey’s free-kick was punched clear by Ferry. The ball was played back into the penalty area and Hoban reacted quickest to John Mountney’s flick to turn the ball home from six-yards.
That goal injected new life into Dundalk and they started to mount wave after wave of pressure on the Coleraine back four.
Darren Meenan fired into the ground after a good flick on by O’Donnell and Ferry then cleared with his feet just before Richie Towell could latch onto Dane Massey’s cross field pass.
Dundalk continued to ask questions and they should have went ahead with 20 minutes left to play. Horgan’s slide rule pass picked out Darren Meenan on the right. His cross found Towell unmarked at the back post but he couldn’t keep his header down.
Oran Kearney’s men struggled to get out of their own half but they stubbornly held on to their advantage before O’Donnell’s dramatic winner.
Dundalk now face Shamrock Rovers or Glentoran for a place in the Setanta Cup final.
COLERAINE: Eugene Ferry; Aaron Canning, Howard Beverland, Steven Douglas, Joe McNeill; Ruairi Harkin, Stephen Lowry, Gareth Tommons, Paul Owens (Ryan McIlmoyle 80); David McDaid, Eoin Bradley (Michael Hegarty 66). Unused subs: David Ogilby, Gary Browne, John Watt, Shane Jennings, Gregg Shannon (GK).
DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter (Kurtis Byrne 77), Andy Boyle, Chris Shields, Dane Massey; John Mountney (Daryl Horgan 57), Stephen O’Donnell, Richie Towell, Darren Meenan; Patrick Hoban, David McMillan (Marc Griffin 84). Unused subs: Sean Gannon, Ruaidhri Higgins, Simon Kelly, Gabriel Sava (GK).
REFEREE: Ray Hetherington (Dungannon).