DFC | McGrath hits a hat-trick as Dundalk FC show a bit of swagger against Sligo
SSE Airtricity League | Dundalk FC 4–0 Sligo Rovers
It might be a bit premature to say that Dundalk FC are back to their best but a swaggering second-half display against Sligo Rovers last night will give Stephen Kenny some much-needed comfort after two consecutive league defeats.
A hat-trick from Jamie McGrath, the return of midfielder Robbie Benson and another good outing by winger Michael Duffy were the main positives from a comfortable win over the Bit o’Red on a damp evening at the Carrick Road.
Back-to-back league defeats to Galway United and Shamrock Rovers left Stephen Kenny’s men third, one point behind second-placed Bray Wanderers, and 15 points adrift of leaders Cork City before kick-off. However, the gap has been reduced to 13 after the Leesiders’ draw in Galway.
Benson was named in the Dundalk starting line-up for the first time since tearing a hamstring against Cork at Turner’s Cross on March 25th. He came in for Stephen O’Donnell who was named on the bench after going off with a head injury in the defeat to Shamrock Rovers a week earlier.
Elsewhere, Chris Shields replaced Conor Clifford and McGrath got the nod ahead of John Mountney, who didn’t make the squad due to a groin injury.
For Sligo, it was very much a case of as you are with manager Gerard Lyttle naming the same team that beat Limerick 3–0 in his first game in charge. Raffaele Cretaro played behind Jonah Ayunga with the in-form Kieran Sadlier deployed on the right flank.
Benson was frequently involved as Dundalk tried to start at a high tempo but it took 19 minutes for Micheal Schlingermann to make his first save, the Sligo goalkeeper gathering easily from David McMillan after neat approach play involving Patrick McEleney.
The visitors kept their shape well and proved very difficult to break down but they posed very little threat in attack. Their best moment of the half came in the 27th minute when Liam Martin combined well with Sadlier on the left but his low cross went behind Ayunga who darted to the near post.
The subdued home crowd began to stir in the 34th minute when Benson picked out McGrath with a clever pass. The former St Patrick’s Athletic man went to ground just inside the penalty area but the linesman’s raised flag took away any claims for a penalty.
Duffy, who had a decent penalty appeal waved away seconds later when his cross was blocked down by Martin, then popped up on the inside left to collect Dane Massey’s defence-splitting pass but the angle proved too difficult and his shot drifted across the face of goal.
Benson pulled an effort wide of the mark in the opening stages of the second half as Dundalk injected some urgency into their play and they almost pulled in front in the 50th minute when the excellent Shields’ cross fell kindly for McGrath but Kyle Callan-McFadden was in the right place to block his effort.
Schlingermann got down well to gather a Shields curler shortly after but the goalkeeper was helpless to stop McGrath from shooting through his legs in the 53rd minute after the Meathman got the better of Tobi Adebayo Rowling on the edge of the penalty area.
Playing with confidence, the champions looked a lot more like themselves going forward with Duffy hooking another good opportunity over the top.
The insurance goal arrived with 18 minutes to go. Duffy was the creator, turning on the accelerator to burst down the right before slowing up and picking out McGrath who rifled his effort under Schlingermann.
McEleney thought he had made it 3–0 when he lifted a Benson pass over the advancing Schlingermannn four minutes later but Regan Donelan appeared to hack the ball away before it could cross the line.
Niclas Vemmelund did grab the third when he bundled the ball home late on to score his second goal in as many games and McGrath put the cap on a fine display when he converted a penalty in stoppage time.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Niclas Vemmelund, Sean Hoare, Paddy Barrett, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Thomas Stewart 88); Michael Duffy, Patrick McEleney (Stephen O’Donnell 84), Jamie McGrath; David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 79). Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), Sean Gannon, Shane Grimes, Conor Clifford.
SLIGO ROVERS: Michael Schlingermann; Tobi Adebayo Rowling, Michael Leahy, Kyle Callan-McFadden, Regan Donelan; Kieran Sadlier, John Russell (Matthew Stevens 78), Gary Boylan, Liam Martin (Michael Place 85); Raffaele Cretaro, Jonah Ayunga (Craig Roddan 59). Subs not used: Shaun Patton (GK), Christopher Kenny, Mark Hannon, Martin Walsh.
REFEREE: Graham Kelly.