Dundalk 6-0 Drogheda United
Richie Towell hit four goals as Dundalk moved 11 points clear of the chasing pack by putting ten man Drogheda United to the sword in the 159th Louth derby at Oriel Park.
Daryl Horgan’s 10th goal of the season gave Stephen Kenny’s side a half-time lead and the champions elect moved through the gears in the second-half, punishing the visitors with a further five goals to leave the majority of the 3,207 crowd planning another title party.
The result leaves Dundalk on the brink of retaining their league crown and they need just two wins and a draw from their remaining five games to secure back-to-back titles for the first time in the club’s history.
For their neighbours on the south of the county, the relegation dogfight continues. The Boynesiders are dangling just two points above the play-off spot and can be pulled into the drop zone if Sligo Rovers win their game in hand.
In truth, Mark Kinsella’s side never looked like troubling the hosts but they will point to the harsh 56th-minute dismissal of Jason Marks as the moment their fate was sealed.
At that stage they were chasing the game, 2-0 down thanks to the efforts of Horgan and Towell.
As expected, it was Dundalk who controlled the first half but they lacked real penetration in the final third until a flash of quality led to the opening goal in the 28th minute.
Towell, who looked like he had left his first touch at home in the opening stages, picked up Brian Gartland’s neat pass before taking a step away from Alan Byrne. It looked like the angle was too much for the midfielder but his cutback was inch perfect for Horgan to sweep home.
Any notion that the goal might entice the visitors to come out of their shell proved unfounded as the half wore on. Needing the points to try and alleviate the pressure at the bottom, Kinsella’s side failed to muster a shot at target in the opening 45 minutes.
Set pieces looked to be their most likely route to goal but, more often than not, Keith Tracey’s deliveries were poor. His best, coming inside the opening 60 seconds, picked out Robert O’Reilly but the centre back’s header was gathered easily by Gary Rogers.
Dundalk found themselves restricted to half-chances with Ronan Finn and Dane Massey going off target before Marks headed wide at the other end after after drifting in between two Dundalk players to meet Gorman’s cross.
The Boynesiders paid the price for the missed opportunity when Horgan opened the scoring a minute later.
If the first half was forgettable, the second was anything but, especially from a Dundalk point of view.
Horgan turned provider for Towell for the second goal in the 49th minute, the midfielder arrowing a 25-yard drive into Schlingermann’s bottom right hand corner.
Things went from bad to worse for Drogheda when they were reduced to ten men in the 55th minute. The magnificent Sean Gannon skipped away from Marks, only to be whipped down by the Drogheda winger.
The incident happened right in front of The Shed, and the home support got their wish when Rogers produced a questionable red card.
From then on it was exhibition stuff from Kenny’s scintillating side. Goal number three arrived in the 59th minute when Towell coolly dispatched his 19th of the campaign after Schlingermann had upended David McMillan who found himself bearing down on the Drogheda goal from Darren Meenan’s through ball.
McMillan got the goal his play deserved when he wrapped his right foot around the ball to find the top corner in the 73rd minute and the icing was put on the cake three minutes later when Towell notched his 20th of the season in all competitions, brilliantly steering home after a surging run by Gannon.
The midfielder made it six when he drove home after good work by substitute John Mountney and Dundalk were denied a repeat of last year’s demolition derby scoreline, when they beat Drogheda 7-0, when Schlingermann made a fabulous save to deny Towell again in stoppage time.
DUNDALK: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Chris Shields; Darren Meenan (John Mountney 73), Ronan Finn (Sean Maguire 81), Daryl Horgan; David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 77).
DROGHEDA UNITED: Micheal Schlingermann; Stephen Maher, Alan Byrne, Robert O’Reilly, Joe Gorman; Mick Daly, Sean Thornton (Mark Hughes 69); Adam Whelan, Keith Tracey (Lee Duffy 57), Jason Marks; Sean Brennan (Robert Bayly 61).
REFEREE: Robert Rogers.