Report & Photo Gallery: Dundalk 2-1 Cliftonville (5-2 Agg)
Goals from Jason Byrne and Johnny Breen in the final quarter saw Dundalk safely through to their first cup final in nine years as they survived a scare from Kieran O’Connor to win 2-1 on the night and complete a 5-2 aggregate victory over Cliftonville in the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final at Oriel Park on Monday night. O’Connor had brought the Belfast club back into the tie with a header just before the hour mark, but the Lilywhites responded well, and Byrne levelled with a powerful header on 67 minutes before they completed a turnaround on the night when, deep in injury time, substitute Breen, with just the ‘keeper to beat, composed himself and fired to the bottom corner.
Photo Gallery Courtesy of Nigel Caldwell: View Slideshow!
Dundalk manager Ian Foster made just one change to the team that lined out against Sligo Rovers three days earlier as the injured Dean Bennett was replaced in the middle of the park by Keith Ward. The home side started brightly, with Mark Quigley heading off target from a Simon Madden cross, before Daniel Kearns forced ‘keeper Jack Duffin to push behind. From the corner, Cliftonville broke, and Madden had to be alert to cut out the danger. On six minutes, in a lively start, the chances kept coming. Quigley found himself with just Duffin to beat, but a weak effort made the netminder’s task easy. Shortly after, Kearns’ free-kick from the left was met by Colin Hawkins who headed the ball back across goal but Byrne could not connect in the six-yard box. On 12 minutes, Dundalk had another chance when Quigley, from the by-line, laid the ball back to Byrne whose shot from 15-yards swerved narrowly wide of Duffin’s left-hand post.
Just past the quarter-hour mark, the Lilywhites had another opportunity to open the scoring when – with the hosts down to ten men as Stephen McDonnell received treatment for a head wound – Byrne and Ross Gaynor linked up well. Eamonn Seydak’s attempted clearance from a Gaynor cross fell into the path of Byrne whose ball back to the left-hand side of the box found the Ardee winger who shot off target. At the other end, Cliftonville created their best chance of the opening exchanges when Conal Burns did well on the right, cutting inside and shooting across goal, the effort forcing Peter Cherrie to dive full length to push behind. Dundalk, with McDonnell back on the pitch, replied when Quigley found Gaynor, but again the winger was off target, this time from close to 25-yards out. On 24 minutes, Kearns put in a low cross from the right which Byrne connected with, but under pressure he couldn’t trouble Duffin.
On 29 minutes, a header from Seydak back to his ‘keeper drew gasps from the home crowd after Duffin’s first-leg performance, but he gathered, nervously, with Kearns ready to pounce. Cliftonville wasted a glorious chance to get back into the game on the half-hour when Stephen Garrett’s cross from the right found Burns. However, six-yards out, he headed wide of Cherrie’s left-hand post. On 44 minutes, after a quiet period of play which saw Cliftonville probe without serious troubling Cherrie, Dundalk had another chance when Quigley found Gaynor who, from 20-yards, cut to his right before shooting, Duffin gathering at the second attempt. On the stroke of half-time, Kearns’ ball over the top caused problems for Duffin on the bounce, with Gaynor and then Kearns looking to profit, but the young stopper did well to clear the danger. Within seconds of the second half starting, Dundalk hit the crossbar when Michael Hector headed Gaynor’s corner off the woodwork.
On 50 minutes, Burns’ drive from 25-yards was deflected narrowly over Cherrie’s bar. The corner resulted in another corner, with George McMullan getting a sight of goal, but his shot, from outside the box, was again over the target. Shortly after, at the other end, Gaynor’s low cross from the left missed Byrne in the box as Dundalk threatened to kill off the tie. On 57 minutes, Byrne did well to get possession on the right, but his low cross from the by-line on the right towards the back post was just too strong for Quigley. Cliftonville got back into it before the hour mark when Liam Fleming’s cross found the head of O’Connor who finished from close range. Cherrie then denied Burns, who this time got his header on target. Dundalk replied with a chance of their own, Byrne blasting wide from the edge of the box. On 64 minutes, Quigley made a good forward run, skipping past visiting defenders, but his end shot was the wrong side of Duffin’s right-hand post.
Dundalk were back on level terms midway through the half when Gaynor’s cross from the left was headed powerfully to the net by Byrne from ten-yards, his effort going in off the underside of the crossbar. With the final looming, Foster decided to withdraw Kearns – one of five players who started the game on a yellow card – on 77 minutes as he was replaced by Breen. On 82 minutes, Cliftonville went close when substitute Rory Donnelly shot from outside the box, Cherrie saving and holding the effort. Within seconds, at the other end, Breen should have had a penalty when he was taken out of it in the box. That collision ended Peter Hutton’s night as he was stretchered off. Breen had a late chance to win the game on the night but he was thwarted, before Ward’s curling shot from the left angle of the box narrowly missed the far top corner. But deep into injury-time, Dundalk won it when Byrne, from the left, played the ball into the centre for Breen who was coolness personified before firing beyond Duffin.
DUNDALK FC (4-2-3-1): Peter Cherrie; Simon Madden ©, Colin Hawkins, Michael Hector, Nathan Murphy; Stephen McDonnell, Keith Ward; Daniel Kearns (Johnny Breen 77), Mark Quigley, Ross Gaynor; Jason Byrne.
Goals: J Byrne (67), J Breen (93).
Unused Subs: Paul Murphy (GK), Mark Griffin, Philip Duffy, Chris Kerr.
CLIFTONVILLE FC: Jack Duffin; Liam Fleming, Peter Hutton (Tony Kane 85), Eamonn Seydak (Jason Bannon 81), Dermot McVeigh; Jody Lynch (Rory Donnelly 71), George McMullan, Kieran O’Connor, Conal Burns, Stephen Garrett; Chris Scannell ©.
Goal: K O’Connor (59).
Booked: D McVeigh (68).
Unused Subs: Ciarán Donaghy, Mark Holland, Aaron Smyth, Barry Johnston.
Referee: Alan Black (Antrim).