Patrick Hoban’s record-breaking strike set Dundalk on their way to a well-deserved victory over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park on Friday night as the champions cut the gap at the top to just four points.
Almost six years to the day since he scored his first league goal for the Lilywhites, Hoban hit number 70 to break Joey Donnelly’s club record, set back in 1943, and put Dundalk in the driving seat in front of over 4,000 people.
After a good start to the game, Stephen Bradley’s league leaders were rocked by the goal and when Michael Duffy buried a low effort in the 62nd-minute it looked like curtains for the visitors.
Substitute Orhan Vojic threw a cat amongst the pigeons, however, when he slid the ball home with eight minutes to go. That led to a jittery end for the hosts but they saw it out to condemn the Hoops to a second loss in the space of four days that leaves real question marks hanging over their title hopes.
Bradley will feel there were extenuating circumstances. With Lee Grace and Trevor Clarke suspended after Tuesday night’s Dublin Derby defeat to Bohemians, the Rovers boss handed 16-year-old full-back James Furlong a baptism of fire. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 37-year-old Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers lined out for his 486th League of Ireland Premier Division match!
Furlong took his place in an unfamiliar looking Rovers backline which saw former Dundalk star Ronan Finn shunted to right-back where he had the unenviable task of trying to shackle Duffy. The Rovers skipper acquitted himself well, forcing the Dundalk winger back into his own half on a number of occasions, and his bright start was indicative of Rovers’ positive play in the opening 20 minutes.
With Aaron McEneff and Dylan Watts holding the upper hand in the middle of the park, they enjoyed good spells of pressure without ever really working Rogers on enough occasions. Their best opportunity came in the 14th minute when Dan Carr robbed Chris Shields in the centre circle to trigger a three versus three counter. Dundalk were left exposed but his pass for Jack Byrne drove the midfielder wide and the chance went.
Byrne, who was fairly anonymous in the scoreless draw between the sides at Tallaght earlier this season, looked bright here and Rogers did well to hold his snapshot minutes later as Rovers continued to find space between the lines.
Dundalk took time to get going but they started to crank up the heat on young Furlong as the half went on with Sean Gannon, in particular, taking the game by the scruff of the neck.
With Dan Carr failing to offer Furlong adequate protection, Gannon, in tandem with Daniel Kelly, was a menace on the right and he almost created the opener on the half-hour mark, dribbling to the byline and pulling the ball back for Hoban who saw his first effort blocked by Finn and the second just clear the bar.
At that stage, the natives were in much better form. With Shields and Patrick McEleney wrestling control of the midfield, chances started to appear with Duffy’s heavy touch allowing Alan Mannus to come and collect after he broke clear on the Rovers goal. A sublime McEleney pass then picked out Gannon in behind Furlong on the right again but there was nobody in a white shirt to meet his drive across the face of goal.
There was a feeling of inevitability when the opener did come after 40 minutes. Duffy’s corner from the right found Hoban just outside the six-yard box and he held off Lopes to angle a diving header inside Mannus’ unoccupied right-hand post and create club history.
Bradley opted to keep things as they were at the start of the second half and Rovers almost pulled level within five minutes of the restart when Lopes met a Jack Byrne free but he couldn’t keep it on target with Rogers struggling.
Gannon, who was immense throughout, was heavily involved in Dundalk’s second. A sweeping move from left to right involving Hoban and Kelly saw the full-back take off on another buccaneering run and his cut back found Duffy who squeezed his effort inside the post to send Oriel Park crazy.
Mannus kept Rovers in the game with a stunning save to prevent Duffy from scoring an almost carbon copy effort as Dundalk pushed for a third and Bradley turned to his bench in a bid to salvage something.
Two of his substitutes combined and Vojic set up a tense finish when he latched onto a Brandon Kavanagh pass to shoot through the legs of Rogers with seven minutes still to play. That came after Lopes had an effort correctly ruled out for offside but, in truth, it was Dundalk’s night and after a patchy spell, Vinny Perth’s side are beginning to look ominous.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Patrick McEleney (Dean Jarvis 90); Daniel Kelly (John Mountney 71), Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Georgie Kelly 78). Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), Brian Gartland, Jordan Flores, Joe McKee.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Ronan Finn, Roberto Lopes, Joey O’Brien, James Furlong; Joel Coustrain (Brandon Kavanagh 63), Dylan Watts, Aaron McEneff, Jack Byrne, Dan Carr (Orhan Vojic 67); Aaron Greene. Subs not used: Leon Pohls (GK), Alex Dunne, Dean Dillon, Thomas Olowa, Darragh Nugent.
REFEREE: Neil Doyle. ATTENDANCE: 4,026.
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