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Dublin: 2°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

Five-star Dundalk hammer Bray to go three points clear at top

Stephen Kenny’s men showed little sign of a European hangover as they won easily.

Dundalk's Kurtis Byrne celebrates scoring their second goal of the game.
Dundalk's Kurtis Byrne celebrates scoring their second goal of the game.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dundalk 5-1 Bray Wanderers

IF THURSDAY NIGHT’S bittersweet win in Split whet the Dundalk players’ appetite for more big European nights, the bread and butter of the league will define whether that’s another Europa League campaign or a shot at its more illustrious big brother.

This routine 5-1 win over Bray Wanderers sent Stephen Kenny’s men three points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League after weeks when only goal difference separated them from nearest challengers Cork.

Even with the distraction of continental travel this month, the Lilywhites have emerged in a stronger league position than a month ago. The Champions League carrot is dangling for those players with the taste of Europe still fresh.

Richie Towell and Kurtis Byrne got Dundalk’s first-half goals at Oriel Park against a Bray Wanderers side who are now without a win in nine league outings. Bray were the first team to inflict a league defeat on Dundalk this season, at the Carlisle Grounds back in April, but there was no danger of a repeat occurrence here.

Ruaidhri Higgins and Jake Kelly Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

(Dundalk’s Ruaidhri Higgins and Jake Kelly of Bray)

The league leaders hit the front just three minutes in. It was a break from a Bray set-piece in a dangerous position. Instantly, that danger had transferred to the other end. Towell was released down the left-hand side and he played in Byrne.

While the ball arrived awkwardly at his feet, the forward managed to get a shot away. It was parried, to be fair to the goalkeeper wide of the post, by Shane Redmond, but Towell was there to stroke home from a narrow angle.

Daryl Horgan headed straight at the recalled Redmond shortly after and then Towell sent in a glorious cross to the back post where Patrick Hoban could only direct the ball wide of the left-hand upright.

On 25 minutes, the home side doubled their lead. This time, Hoban’s cross from the left was swung at, and missed, by both Joe Gorman and Jake Kelly. It fell to Darren Meenan, whose ferocious shot was saved by Redmond before Byrne tapped home the rebound.

In the second half, it was more of the same. Just eight minutes in, Patrick Hoban finished off from close range to make it three on the night and a half century of league goals for Dundalk so far this campaign. It’s quite the feat just 21 games into the season. Only champions St Pat’s can come anywhere close to matching that kind of firepower.

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Byrne was again on the score sheet just after the hour. Towell, seemingly with license to run at will at the Bray rearguard, burst through and poked it into the path of the 24-year-old who let fly with a rasping shot that rose into the top corner.

Some sloppy passes aside in the second half, Dundalk were on easy street here at the end of a week where they’ve made the lengthy trip to Croatia and back.

Philly Hughes and sub Shane O’Neill went close for Bray but they were the exception to Dundalk rule throughout. Alan Mathews will be hoping his clutch of new signings can bring something to the table sooner rather than later as his out-of-form side occupy the relegation play-off berth, below UCD.

Late on, Ishamail Akinde was deemed to have broken the offside trap to score a consolation for Bray, before Patrick Hoban finished smartly as the rampant home side restored their four-goal cushion. That was 52.

Dundalk go three points clear at the top, with Cork seemingly now the only side close enough to catch them with just over one series of games left to play.

DUNDALK: Peter Cherrie, Sean Gannon, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey, Richie Towell, Ruaidhri Higgins, Darren Meenan (John Mountney, 81), Daryl Horgan (Donal McDermott, 63), Kurtis Byrne (David McMillan, 86), Patrick Hoban.

Substitutes: Gabriel Sava, Simon Kelly, Mark Griffin, Mark Rossiter.

BRAY WANDERERS: Shane Redmond, Adam Mitchell, Joe Gorman, Shane O’Connor, Dean Zambra, Graham Kelly (Eric McGill, 69), David Cassidy (Ryan Coombes, 75), Ishamhil Akinade, Jake Kelly, Michael Barker, Philip Hughes (Shane O’Neill, 65).

Substitutes: Stephen McGuinness, Niall Cooney, Ciaran Byrne, Gareth McDonagh.

REFEREE: Tomas Connolly

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Barry Landy

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