Quickfire second-half goals from Louie Annesley and Patrick Hoban secured Dundalk a thoroughly deserved win over Shamrock Rovers at Oriel Park.
After a scoreless first half, the Gibraltar international broke the deadlock in the 73rd minute when he picked up possession in his own half, strode forward, exchanged passes with substitute Keith Ward, and let fly with an unstoppable left-footed drive that flew Leon Pohls and found the top corner.
The reigning champions were still coming to terms with the blow when Hoban made it 2-0 just four minutes later. Ward, again, provided the assist, curling a brilliant free-kick into the Rovers penalty area and Hoban met it with a hallmark header to bring up his 145th goal for the club.
It was just rewards for Dundalk’s best display of the season, and arguably their finest under Stephen O’Donnell to date. The Lilywhites came out of the traps aggressively, pinning Rovers back in their half for long periods, and they almost took the lead in bizarre fashion after 22 minutes.
Sean Hoare and his goalkeeper got into a calamitous mix-up on the edge of their own box but the defender, one of four ex-Dundalk players in the Rovers line-up, recovered just in time to stop the ball going over the line.
Rovers offered very little in the final third in the opening half but they did have the ball in the net when Sean Gannon reacted quickly to pounce on a parry by Nathan Shepperd and scoop the ball into the net but it was correctly ruled out for offside, much to the delight of the home support!
Substitute Rory Gaffney tried to place one into the far corner of Shepperd’s net in the 68th minute but his effort went wide and Oriel Park was bouncing as the hosts scored the all-important opener shortly after through Annesley before Hoban sent the 3,000-plus crowd home happy with a header that cuts Rovers’ lead over Dundalk to seven points and moves O’Donnell’s men just one point behind third-placed Derry City.
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd; Archie Davies, Hayden Muller, Louie Annesley, Darragh Leahy, Robbie McCourt (Paul Doyle 86); Johannes Yli-Kokko (Keith Ward 72), Greg Sloggett, Connor Malley, Daniel Kelly (Ryan O’Kane 91); Patrick Hoban (John Martin 86). Subs not used: Alfie Lewis, Eoin Kenny, Anthony Moyo, Peter Cherrie (GK), Mark Byrne (GK)
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Leon Pohls; Daniel Cleary, Roberto Lopes, Sean Hoare; Sean Gannon, Dylan Watts, Markus Poom, Richie Towell (Liam Burt 71), Sean Kavanagh; Aaron Greene (Graham Burke 71), Johnny Kenny (Rory Gaffney 62). Sus not used: Tom Leitis (GK), Simon Power, Darragh Nugent, Kieran Cruise, Carl Lennox, Cian Noonan.
REFEREE: Paul McLaughlin. ATTENDANCE: 3,156.