Dundalk 1-0 Drogheda United

It looked like the 157th Louth derby would end in a stalemate until Richie Towell popped up with a priceless 88th-minute winner as Dundalk recorded a 1-0 victory against Drogheda United at Oriel Park to move three points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table.

Despite battering their opponents for most of the game, it looked like Stephen Kenny’s side would have to settle for a point against their stubborn, defensively-minded neighbours, but Towell smashed home Dane Massey’s cross to settle the affair in favour of the reigning champions.

Despite playing the full 90 minutes against Shelbourne in an EA Sports Cup tie just three nights earlier, Lilywhites captain Stephen O’Donnell had to settle for a place on the bench. Centre-back Brian Gartland recovered from a virus to take his place in the team as Kenny named an unchanged line-up for the third league game in succession.

Johnny McDonnell made three changes to the team that was beaten by Bohemians at United Park seven days earlier, with Jason Marks, Carl Walshe and Sean Brennan all restored to the starting XI.

The first half’s pattern of play was established early on. The Drogs arrived at Oriel happy to sit back and try to contain the champions, with Daryl Kavanagh charged with the difficult task of trying to lead the line on his own.

Dundalk accepted the invitation and started with real intent, with Micheal Schlingermann diving low to his left to deny Richie Towell from 20 yards after nine minutes.

Two minutes later, SWAI Player of the Month for March David McMillan saw his acrobatic overhead kick drift wide of the post.

The home crowd sensed that a goal was imminent but they were left frustrated as the Drogs stood firm, easily mopping up anything the home side could throw at them for the remainder of the first half.

In fact, it was the Boynesiders who will feel they should have drawn first blood. The opportunity came on the half-hour mark when Sean Brennan curled in a free from the left. Centre-back Alan Byrne found himself unmarked, only to glance his header well off target.

Referee Padraigh Sutton’s half-time whistle brought a forgettable half to a close.

The second half saw Dundalk attacking the end where they put six goals past Drogheda in the corresponding fixture last May and, like the first half, they opened at a high tempo.

Dane Massey’s free-kick was easily gathered by Schlingermann in the 46th minute before McMillan headed wide after good approach play by Meenan on the right.

Massey had another go six minutes later, running on to a Ronan Finn lay-off only to shoot wide.

McMillan then created a rare yard of space on the edge of the box but the Drogs goalkeeper was equal to the task.

The champions continued to try and turn the screw and they went within a whisker of opening the scoring in the 63rd minute. Daryl Horgan met Sean Gannon’s deep cross to the back post but Stephen Maher was on hand to hack the ball off the line with Schlingermann beaten.

Kenny emptied his bench, with John Mountney, Stephen O’Donnell and Kurtis Byrne all sent into the fray in a bid to break the deadlock and it was O’Donnell who almost delivered with five minutes to go, but he just couldn’t keep Horgan’s wicked cross on target with his header.

To their credit, Dundalk kept calm and the winner arrived with two minutes to go. McMillan and Dane Massey combined brilliantly with the left-back’s ball across goal hammered home at the far post by Towell.

Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Brian Gartland, Dane Massey; Chris Shields (Stephen O’Donnell 73), Richie Towell; Darren Meenan (Kurtis Byrne 80), Ronan Finn (John Mountney 68), Daryl Horgan; David McMillan 

Subs not used: Shane Grimes, Paddy Barrett, Ciaran O’Connor, Gabriel Sava 

Drogheda United: Michael Schlingermann; Mick Daly, Lloyd Buckley, Alan Byrne (Shane Dunne 67), Joe Gorman; Jason Marks (Cathal Brady HT), Mark Hughes, Stephen Maher, Carl Walshe; Sean Brennan; Daryl Kavanagh (Tiarnan Mulvenna 85)

Subs not used: Robert O’Reilly, Lee Duffy, Roy Kierans, Dylan Connolly

Referee: Padraigh Sutton