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"We want our club back" was the cry of protestors outside Oriel Park and on the pitch they got it at least as Dundalk belied their recent form to end Shamrock Rovers' 33-match unbeaten league record.

Fans gathered outside the ground before the game to call for chairman Bill Hulsizer to step down from his role in protest against the way the club has been run following a start which yielded just two wins from 11 matches prior to this game.


While it remains to be seen if the American will listen, the players at least seem to heed the message by inflicting a first defeat on Stephen Bradley’s side since Dundalk clinched the league title with a 3-2 win against them at the Co Louth venue in September 2019.

Birthday boy Daniel Kelly was the hero for Jim Magilton’s side on the night with a goal and an assist on what was his first start of 2021.

He set Patrick McEleney away for a superb goal on the break after 11 minutes and while Dundalk coughed up a cheap equaliser to Joey O’Brien after another goalkeeping gaffe just three minutes later, Kelly popped up with a spectacular winner with what was his 25th career goal on his 25th birthday just before the hour mark.

While the Louth men will be hoping this result can prove to be the catalyst for better results on the field, for Rovers it is a blow to their title retention hopes on a night where both Sligo Rovers closed the gap at the top to two points ahead of their trip to Tallaght Stadium on Monday.

It was the visitors who started on the front foot and they were unlucky not to be ahead after just four minutes when Liam Scales headed against the crossbar.

The early pressure continued after that from the champions but they were hit with a suckerpunch when Dundalk took the lead on the break on 11 minutes. After a Rovers corner was cleared Cameron Dummigan released Kelly up the left, who in turn played the ball across for the inrushing McEleney. The Derry man then did well to hold off Roberto Lopes before firing high to the net past Alan Mannus.

Dundalk's good start was undone by yet another defensive mix-up just three minutes later though. A scuffed shot from Scales was spilled by Abibi with Chris Shields unable to clear properly under pressure from Lopes with O’Brien on hand to profit for the simplest of tap-ins.

Rory Gaffney then had an effort blocked at close range by Shields before the home side had penaty appeals turned down on 24 minutes after Kelly went down when challenged by his old teammate Sean Gannon.

Mannus then came to Rovers’ rescue on 32 minutes when he got down well to his right to keep out a half volley from Michael Duffy, who had been picked out by McEleney.

Having faded slightly in terms of attacking threat late in the first half, Rovers came out with all guns blazing on the restart only to be denied twice by the woodwork in quick succession.

Moments after having an effort saved by Abibi, Aaron Greene broke free up the left on 48 minutes from Scales’ pass to lob Abibi only for his effort to take a wicked bounce to strike the crossbar.

Then five minutes later Graham Burke cut in from the right on his left foot only to see his fierce strike cannon back off the inside of the post.

Those misses were to prove costly as Kelly restored Dundalk’s lead with a stunning strike on 59 minutes when he found space to the right of the penalty area before drilling a superb shot past Mannus to make it 2-1.

Despite plenty of pressure from the visitors after that it would be their opponents who would seriously threaten next on 72 minutes when Duffy cut in from the right past four Rovers players only to see his shot go straight down the throat of Mannus.

Both sides then had good chances at either end with Danny Mandriou having a free kick turned around the post by Abibi on 80 minutes before Raivis Jurkovskis curled a fierce effort just wide two minutes later.

Substitute Ole Erik Midtskogen then failed to take a big opportunity to close the game out with six minutes remaining when he found space in the box only to be denied by a superb stop from Mannus.

Greene then saw a header shave the outside of the post in the 89th minute after being left unmarked from Mandriou’s cross.

Joey O’Brien then had a 94th minute header scrambled off the line as Dundalk held out for a win which they hope will kick start their season.

Dundalk: Alessio Abibi; Cameron Dummigan, Chris Shields, Andy Boyle, Raivis Jurkovskis; Wilfried Zahibo, Sam Stanton (Greg Sloggett 79), Patrick McEleney; Daniel Kelly (Ole Erik Midtskogen 75), David McMillan, Michael Duffy.

Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien, Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace; Sean Gannon, Gary O’Neill, Danny Mandroiu, Liam Scales; Rory Gaffney, Aaron Greene, Graham Burke (Dean Williams 86).

Referee: Rob Harvey (Dublin).