Dundalk threw themselves firmly into the title race with a 2-1 victory over leaders St. Patrick’s Athletic in difficult conditions at Oriel Park on Friday evening.
A come-from-behind victory for the hosts as goals from Kurtis Byrne and John Sullivan gave the Lilywhites all three points. Christy Fagan gave the Saints the lead just before the hour but it wasn’t enough as Dundalk won their third league match on the bounce ahead of the midseason break.
The hosts made three changes from the side which battled to victory in the Louth derby on Monday evening with the returning duo of John Sullivan and Darren Meenan reclaiming their place in the starting XI in place of Chris Shields and Keith Ward who dropped to the bench while the suspended John Mountney was replaced by Kurtis Byrne.
For the Saints, Liam Buckley decided to only make one change as Shane McFaul returned to the midfield in place of Jake Kelly who started among the substitutes.
In the early going, it was Dundalk who had the better of it with John Sullivan shooting wide from distance before the man in form, Patrick Hoban turned brilliantly from Sullivan’s pass but his shot was deflected just wide of Brendan Clarke’s left hand post.
The opening 20 minutes Pat’s struggled to see any of the ball but as the half wore on, they began to take control. Killian Brennan hit a few dangerous crosses into the area and Ian Bermingham had a shot blocked from distance before the visitors had their best chance of the opening half an hour when Chris Forrester forced an excellent save from Peter Cherrie with a shot that was destined for the bottom corner but the Scotsman got a hand to it.
Cherrie was called into action once more as he came out well to spread himself at the feet of Fagan and took the ball well. Moments later St. Pat’s were reduced to ten men. As Darren Meenan took the ball under control, Player of the Month Brennan lunged at him with two feet and despite the protests of his team mates, referee Anthony Buttimer, who brandished the red card three times on his last trip to Oriel Park, had no hesitation in giving the Drogheda native his marching orders.
The numerical advantage didn’t matter for the remainder of the half as both sides failed to create any chances of note although Pat’s- Brendan Clarke spilled a John Dillon corner but it was cleared well by his defence.
The Lilywhites started the second period the brighter and Meenan had a wicked drive deflected wide for a corner and from the corner the ball broke to Richie Towell but he dragged his shot wide of the right hand post.
Former Dundalk player Greg Bolger had Pat’s first effort of the second half but it was never troubling Cherrie in the Dundalk goal. Conan Byrne shot just wide from a free-kick 25 yards from goal as despite being a man down, Pat’s took control.
In their next attack, on the hour mark, the Inchicore deservedly took the lead. McFaul found Bolger who got through on goal past Dane Massey and his cross into the six yard area was only parried by Cherrie into the path of Fagan who tapped in from close range.
Forrester almost doubled the lead seconds later when he shot from distance but it was easily dealt with by Cherrie. It was then that Dundalk began to exert pressure on the Pat’s defence.
A number of forays forward for Dundalk were easily dealt with by the visiting defence before the Lilywhites drew level. Dane Massey played a pin point pass to Kurtis Byrne. He took on Ger O’Brien and after some wonderful turns, he fired low past Clarke into the bottom corner on 70 minutes.
This gave the home side new impetus and within five minutes, the had a golden chance to take the lead.
A deflected Sullivan cross fell to substitute Keith Ward inside the box and as he controlled the ball, Kenny Browne bundled him over and Buttimer pointed to the spot.
Byrne, chasing his second of the night, stepped up to take but his powerful penalty into the arms of Clarke in the Saints goal. The penalty miss appeared to initially deflate the home side but they regrouped and with 7 minutes remaining, they took the lead.
Substitute Vinny Faherty was fouled 30 yards from goal by Conor Kenna. Towell stepped up to take and despite shaping up to shoot, he played a pass to the unmarked Sullivan. The former Drogheda United player’s cross evaded everyone including goalkeeper Clarke and ended up in the back of the net, much to the delight of the home crowd.
The Louth club finished the game with ten men as substitute Ward was stretchered off in the closing stages and despite having to endure six long minutes of added time, the Lilywhites held out for their first victory against the Saints at Oriel Park since November 1998.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; John Sullivan, Mark Rossiter ©, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Stephen McDonnell (Tiarnan Mulvenna 66); John Dillon (Keith Ward 55), Darren Meenan; Kurtis Byrne, Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 79).
Subs not used: Eoghan Osborne, Chris Shield, Ciaran O’Connor, Aaron Shanahan (GK).
St. Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Conor Kenna©, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Shane McFaul(John Russell 77), Greg Bolger; Conan Byrne, Killian Brennan, Chris Forrester; Christy Fagan(Anto Flood 81).
Subs not used: Jake Carroll, Stephen Maher, Jake Kelly, Dave Ryan (GK).
Booked: Clarke (44), Browne (75).
Sent off: Brennan (33).
Referee: Anthony Buttimer.
Extratime.ie man of the match: Richie Towell (Dundalk).