Dundalk on the brink of retaining the title

Limerick 1–3 Dundalk FC

Dundalk are on the brink of retaining the SSE Airtricity League title after recovering from a goal down to see off bottom of the table Limerick at the Markets Field on Saturday night.

The hosts stunned the champions elect when Dean Clarke drew first blood after just 70 seconds and it was a lead they held as as the game ticked into the final quarter of an hour.

However it was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man as Richie Towell equalised in the 76th minute before taking his tally to 21 league goals for the season — a new club record — with substitute Ciaran Kilduff adding a third.

The result leaves Stephen Kenny’s side 13 points clear of Cork City, who have just five games left to play, and the title will be sealed if Dundalk win their next league game, in Tallaght, against Shamrock Rovers. The connotations of that have not been lost on the club’s supporters.

Speaking after the 6–0 derby win over Drogheda United last week Kenny praised the consistency of his defence but the fab four were split up on this occasion with Brian Gartland missing out with a thigh injury that could rule him out of the FAI Cup semi-final with Longford Town. Paddy Barrett came into take his place.

Gartland’s absence was highlighted after just 70 seconds of play as the home side took a sensational lead. Shane Tracy’s corner from the was right was flicked on by Vinny Faherty at the near post and Dean Clarke was on hand to thump home.

From then on, it was the visitors who dominated but a combination of poor finishing and some fine goalkeeping by Freddy Hall kept them at bay.

They should have pulled level after five minutes. Shaun Kelly’s ball across the back four left Robbie Williams in trouble. Darren Meenan hustled the Limerick centre back and burst clear but his effort lacked conviction and Hall made the block.

Martin Russell’s side always looked a threat from dead ball situations and Tracy caused more hassle in the Dundalk penalty area on the quarter hour mark, his cross cum shot having to be clawed away by Gary Rogers for a corner.

It was one way traffic for the remainder of the half as Dundalk began to pin the Blues back in their own half and another clear cut opening arrived their way in the 20th minute.

Faherty surrendered possession, allowing David McMillan the chance to carry on the left. His cross picked out the incoming Towell at the back post the country’s leading scorer couldn’t connect fully with his volley.

At the other end, Faherty had appeals for a penalty waved away after going down too easily under a challenge from Rogers in the box and the end to end action continued with Kelly producing a super last ditch tackle to deny Dane Massey after a beautiful pass by Ronan Finn.

Hall produced a fantastic reaction save to stop Finn from equalising on the half hour before McMillan swivelled on a Towell knock down only to see his volley fly wide.

Urged on by their vocal support, the home side showed great tenacity and they went within inches of making it 2–0 just before the break. Faherty tried his luck from 25-yards, his drive taking a wicked deflection off Andy Boyle, only to see the ball drop agonisingly over the crossbar.

The hosts started the second half on the front foot with Tracy and Dean Clarke working the left flank really well, leading to quick fire yellow cards for Gannon and Meenan.

The opposite wing, however, was the avenue that almost led to a second goal. Kelly’s cross was only cleared as far as Turner on the edge of the penalty area but Rogers made a sensational stop to turn his goal bound effort over the top.

Kenny introduced Stephen O’Donnell and Ciaran Kilduff from the bench and Dundalk bossed possession as the half wore on but they found it hard to create any real openings with Limerick staying compact and denying space in and around the box.

A patient move ended with Hall saving, once more, from Finn after Meenan and Gannon had worked the opening. The ‘Bermudan international goalkeeper then showed safe hands again three minutes later, Daryl Horgan having to try his luck from distance due to the two banks of Limerick blue in front of him.

The natives continued to hold onto hope but their dreams of claiming an unlikely win, and one that would have moved them off the foot of the table, were blown away by three goals in the space of six minutes.

Towell finally beat Hall when he latched onto a Kilduff knock down to steer the ball home after 76 minutes, the midfielder taking his tally to 20 league goals for the campaign.

The record number 21 arrived four minutes later, Towell’s effort on the right deflecting off the unlucky Shane Duggan and looping over the flat footed Hall.

That goal left the Dundalk fans in fine voice and they were left dreaming of winning the title in Tallaght in two weeks time when Kilduff breached the Limerick back four to collect Horgan’s slide rule pass and finish the game as a contest.

LIMERICK: Freddy Hall; Shaun Kelly, Robbie Williams, Patrick Kanyuka, Shane Tracy; Paul O’Conor (Prince Agyemang 87), Shane Duggan; Ian Turner, Lee J Lynch (Sean Russell 70), Dean Clarke; Vinny Faherty.

DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Paddy Barrett, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Chris Shields (Stephen O’Donnell 63); Darren Meenan (John Mountney 75), Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan; David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 67).