By Ed Leahy at Tallaght Stadium
Shamrock Rovers got back to winning ways as they beat Dundalk 1-0 in tonight’s Airtricity League Premier Division clash at Tallaght Stadium.
The Hoops grabbed the lead on the stroke of half-time as Sean O’Connor scored from close range despite a sustained period of pressure from the visitors.
And while the lead never looked in any danger as the home side bossed the majority of the second period, creating a host of chances, Dundalk nearly grabbed a late equaliser but Tiarnan Mulvenna’s close range effort flew over the bar.
Dundalk arrived at Tallaght Stadium with a one hundred per cent record on the road this season, while Shamrock Rovers were hoping the second phase of league games would get them back in touch at the top of the table, having managed just two wins in their opening 11 matches.
The early exchanges became a battle of the midfield as a packed central area prevented any free-flowing football from either side.
An alternative route was required and Dundalk looked to use their flanks as Kurtis Byrne and Darren Meenan stayed wide, while Rovers took a more direct route looking to exploit the space behind the Dundalk back four.
A weak Ronan Finn effort after eight minutes was the only chance of note in the opening 15 minutes, but another ball over the top two minutes later nearly sent Karl Sheppard through on goal.
Pat Sullivan’s long, angled ball allowed the on-loan Reading striker to time his run to beat the offside trap but the pace on the ball proved too much for Sheppard and his out-stretched foot touched the ball on to the advancing Dundalk keeper.
Dundalk’s best chance also came courtesy of a long ball with almost 26 minutes on the clock.
Keeper Cherrie launched a goal-kick into the opposition half, which was won by the aggressive Hoban who held off Hoops centre-half Derek Foran and the ball dropped to influential midfielder Richie Towell who tried a shot from distance.
The 30-yard effort had Barry Murphy scrambling across his goal but the ball flew two yards wide of the post.
Rovers stepped up a gear and created two goalscoring opportunities within two minutes as the half-hour mark approached.
Neat work down the left from Danny Ledwith put O’Connor in space, and the former St Pat’s winger found Sheppard charging in at the near post but his half-hit shot was straight at the keeper who did well to react and save the close-range effort.
And it was Sheppard again who enjoyed an even better chance to grab the opener after a delightful O’Connor cross was teased across the Dundalk box.
The Rovers striker arrived unmarked at the back post and tried to place the ball past the keeper, but Cherrie got down well to his left to turn the ball around the post for a corner.
It was all Rovers now and some neat passing across the pitch had the Dundalk defence camped on the edge of their box.
Then in the 36th minute the ball was only half-cleared and Hoops captain Sullivan charged onto the ball to strike from distance with the outside of his right foot.
The well-struck shot was on target but keeper Cherrie was again in the right place at the right time to make the save.
Dundalk eventually got going and they made their way out of their own half thanks to left-back Dane Massey charging forward.
The ball was played into the feet of striker Hoban who laid the ball off to the advancing Keith Ward.
The Dundalk midfielder skipped past the challenge of Stephen Rice to make space and unleash a fine effort but Rovers keeper Murphy was up to the challenge to push the ball around the post.
Dundalk maintained that pressure until the end of the 45 minutes with Hoban coming close to giving the Lilywhites the lead, but his close-range effort just went wide as he got between Derek Foran and Murphy.
But with two minutes of injury time to negotiate, it was the home side who grabbed the lead against the run of play.
Sheppard’s hopeful ball into the box from the left was not dealt with by the Dundalk defence.
Andy Boyle attempted to clear but the ball fell to O’Connor who turned and smashed it home from close range.
Rovers brought that momentum into the second half and nearly doubled their lead after left-back Danny Ledwith strode forward and crashed a superb right-footed effort off the inside of the post.
The ball cannoned off the woodwork to Ronan Finn who slid in hoping to sneak the ball home at the far post, but somehow Cherrie managed to get his hand to the ball and save.
Dundalk had no choice now but to keep pushing forward and started to dominate possession but were unable to really test the home goal.
Kurtis Byrne’s weak effort failed to test Murphy in the 52nd minute, while at the other end, Sheppard had two chances to push Rovers further ahead but he took too much out of the ball before attempting an over-head kick that dropped wide.
Finn was then played clear by James Chambers in the 62nd minute but the Dundalk defence got back to force the lively midfielder to check his run and avert the danger.
With 20 minutes remaining, Hoops boss Trevor Crolly introduced Mark Quigley into the contest with the former Dundalk man replacing the industrious Sheppard.
And Quigley’s impact was immediate as the Hoops pushed deep into the Dundalk half and what followed was ten minutes of relentless pressure on the Dundalk goal.
O’Connor was causing all sorts of trouble for John Mountney on the left wing and some intricate passing led to a string of chances for Quigley, O’Connor and Rice.
Quigley’s effort was the best chance of the lot but the substitute headed wide when it looked easier to score.
Dundalk’s challenge was now fading fast as the home side appeared to be winning both in terms of possession and fitness as they bombarded the away goal, but to no avail.
Lilywhites boss Stephen Kenny emptied the bench with Mulvenna and Stephen McDonnell sent on to attempt to stop the rot.
And the aforementioned Mulvenna almost responded with a goal with seven minutes left on the clock as he slid in to meet Towell’s low cross but the ball flew over the bar and Rovers regrouped.
Six minutes of additional time had to be played due to an injury to Rovers captain Sullivan and this time it was the home side who had to deal with the late pressure, but they saw the final few minutes out with no real drama and to earn a valuable three points.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Pat Sullivan, Jason McGuinness, Derek Foran, Danny Ledwith; Gary McCabe (Billy Dennehy 56), James Chambers, Stephen Rice, Ronan Finn (Shane Robinson 82), Sean O’Connor; Karl Sheppard (Mark Quigley 70).
Subs not used: Ciaran Kilduff, Conor McCormack, David Elebert, Richard Brush.
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; John Mountney, John Sullivan, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Darren Meenan (Stephen McDonnell 81), Stephen O’Donnell, Richie Towell, Keith Ward (John Dillon 66); Kurtis Byrne (Tiarnan Mulvenna 74); Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Eoghan Osbourne, Vinny Faherty, Aaron Shanahan.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer.