Dundalk lose ground in title race amid Shelbourne setback

There was a real lack of cutting edge in the final third as defences came out on top.

Dundalk’s Robbie Benson dejected.
Dundalk’s Robbie Benson dejected.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Shelbourne: 0
Dundalk: 0

Darryl Geraghty reports from Tolka Park

SHELS AND DUNDALK went toe-to-toe but ended up sharing the spoils in a slugfest at a packed Tolka Park.

Both encounters so far this season had been relatively close and fiercely contested, and this one was no different. Despite the effort of both sides, there was a real lack of cutting edge in the final third as defences came out on top.

Damien Duff’s Reds had endured a frustrating return to action following the mid-season break, going down 1-0 at old rivals Bohemians who had 10-men for most of the second half, but started brightly and had the first real chance at goal.

Man-of-the-match Jad Hakiki showed some quick feet to draw a foul from Robbie Benson on the edge of the area. Up stepped Shane Farrell, making his 100th appearance for the club, but was unable to mark the milestone as his curled effort sailed just over the bar.

The visitors, without their talisman Pat Hoban — a surprise omission from the squad — did well to assert themselves as the game developed and began to pin the well-organised Shels outfit back deeper and deeper, nearly finding the all elusive breakthrough.

Hibs loanee, Steven Bradley, who started the season on fire cut in from the left-wing and drilled a strike that narrowly missed Brendan Clarke’s far post.

Just after the half-hour mark the visitors, and majority of those inside Tolka Park, thought that the deadlock had finally been broken.

Following some quick passing on the left, Daniel Kelly managed to slip through the Dundalk match-winner of the previous week, Robbie Benson, free inside the area. And with the goal at his mercy, the attacker somehow curled his effort into the near side netting, resulting in the ball hitting the board behind the goal and travelling around the back of the net, with some supporters initially unsure if it had gone in or not.

The second half followed the same pattern — Shels looked to hit Dundalk on the break but the quality of the visitors began to shine through.

Just minutes after the restart, in almost a carbon copy of last week’s winner, Lewis Macari delivered a beautiful cross from the right hand side deep into the Shels area but David McMillan failed to direct his header on target.

Brian McManus had a deflected strike from 25 yards that had Nathan Sheppard scrambling across his goal as the home fans began to find their voice.

With the crowd on their back, Shels forced a spate of corners in quick succession but failed to threaten, the returning Sean Boyd’s flicked header at the near post looped into the far top corner but Sheppard was equal to it.

With a quarter of an hour left, both teams, weary from the effort put in so far, traded blows.

Darragh Leahy put in another dangerous cross from the left but Benson just couldn’t get on the end of it, throwing everything he had at it, before Farrell had another effort from distance.

With just 10 minutes remaining, substitute John Martin managed to fashion a yard of space in the area, momentarily getting away from Luke Byrne but on the stretch failed to connect properly to Bradley’s cross as the ball flew over the bar.

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Youngster Ryan O’Kane had a late volley to win it for Stephen O’Donnell’s men, but flashed it wide as the final whistle drew proceedings to a close.

Up next for Shels is a trip to a rejuvenated Sligo Rovers, who might just have an eye on their huge Europa conference League clash against Bala Town a few days later, while Dundalk will look keep up the pressure on Shamrock Rovers when they host UCD at Oriel Park.

Shelbourne FC: Brendan Clarke, Luke Byrne, Shane Griffin, Aaron O’Driscoll, Conor Kane, Jad Hakiki (JR Wilson, 74’), JJ Lunney, Jack Moylan (Aodh Dervin, 78’), Shane Farrell, Brian McManus (Kameron Ledwidge, 84’), Sean Boyd

Subs not used: Gavin Molloy, Gavin Hodgins, Dan Carr, Colm Cox, Adam Thomas, Lewis Temple.

Dundalk FC: Nathan Sheppard, Lewis Macari, Andy Boyle, Mark Connolly, Daniel Kelly (Ryan O’Kane, 82’), Robbie Benson, Greg Sloggett, Darragh Leahy, Steven Bradley, Paul Doyle (Keith Ward, 68’), David McMillan (John Martin, 59’)

Subs not used: Peter Cherrie, Sam Bone, Joe Adams, John Mountney, Mayowa Animasahun, Mark Hanratty

Referee: Rob Hennessey

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