Tommy Dickson/INPHO
tough battle

Cork City wait in the long grass as Dundalk are held in a feisty affair at Oriel Park

Dundalk are five points clear at the top of the table but the Rebel Army have a game in hand.

Dundalk 1

Shamrock Rovers 1

DUNDALK HOLD A five point advantage over Cork City at the top of the SSE Airtricity League after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Shamrock Rovers in a tempestuous encounter at Oriel Park.

For the second game running, the champions needed a header from a set-piece to rescue a point. Like Daryl Horgan on Thursday night last, Pat McEleney delivered a left wing free kick and like Ciaran Kilduff then, Brian Gartland was the Lilywhite hero this time around.

Remarkably, Rovers lead the game at the break. Gary Shaw took advantage of a fatal error in the Dundalk defence to sidefoot in what was surely the easiest of his six league goals this season.

Before and after the opener Dundalk had dominated, but it was only post-Shaw’s strike that the Rovers rearguard really had to withstand a barrage of efforts on goal. David McMillan, Robbie Benson and McEleney all came within a whisper of drawing a quick leveller before Gartland’s header.

David McMillan is fowled off the ball by Robert Cornwall Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

With the exertions of Alkmaar behind them and the visit of Derry City to come on Friday, Stephen Kenny made just one change to his line-up at Oriel Park. Benson came in for John Mountney. Rovers provided intriguing opposition.

The Louth men were much the better side in the opening 45 minutes. Early on, David McMillan and McEleney worked Barry Murphy.

Sean Boyd could count himself extremely fortunate not to be sent off for a challenge that left Horgan writhing in agony on the ground in midfield. His tackle was high and dangerous. The winger himself was lucky not to be seriously injured in the clash.

Stephen O'Donnell is fowled with Dean Clarke and David Webster Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

All Rovers had to show for their efforts in the first 33 minutes was Gary McCabe’s sliced shot and Shaw’s tame header but they took a shock lead 12 minutes before the break.

Andy Boyle lofted a ball back to Rogers from near the left touchline. The goalkeeper’s touch was lacking and the ball loosely spun into Shaw’s path.

He gleefully tapped in for 1-0.

That was when things really started to happen for Dundalk. Massey’s cross found McMillan but in turn the striker could only hit the side netting. Then, McEleney’s curled shot hit the post and Benson’s rebound header was wide of the upright.

The Lilywhite faithful – in excess of 800 of them had made the trip to Alkmaar last week – had seen this side get out of more difficult jams in the past. Five nights ago in the Netherlands will live long in the memory. It was no great surprise when they drew level on 59 minutes here.

From McEleney’s free kick, Gartland produced an emphatic header to beat Murphy. The centre back barely had to jump to beat the static Rovers defenders around him.

Brian Gartland celebrates scoring Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Ronan Finn forced Murphy into a save low down to his left shortly after. Horgan tested Murphy with a dipping drive late on. There were eight added minutes and Dean Shiels had a 98th minute header tipped over.

Rovers’ boss Stephen Bradley was sent to the stand too, as tempers flared.

Tonight was the third time in six league outings that these two have finished all square. Just seven of the Rovers players that featured tonight were even in the matchday squad when these sides met in Tallaght back in April.

The names may have changed but the Hoops continue to be a thorn in the side of Dundalk’s title chasing charge. The champions lead Cork by five and the Leesiders have a game in hand.

Dundalk: Gary Rogers, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Stephen O’Donnell, Ronan Finn (Dean Shiels, 87), Robbie Benson (John Mountney, 46), Patrick McEleney, Daryl Horgan, David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff, 76).

Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Shane Grimes, Paddy Barratt, Chris Shields.

Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy, Simon Madden, Robert Cornwall, David Webster, Sean Heaney, Shane Hanney (David O’Connor, 82), Gary McCabe, Stephen McPhail, Gary Shaw (Patrick Cregg, 70), Dean Clarke, Sean Boyd (Aaron Dobbs, 82).

 Subs not used: Michael Quinn, Aaron Bolger, Killian Brennan, James Doona.

Referee: Robert Rogers (Dublin)

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