Sligo Rovers 2-2 Dundalk
Two goals in three minutes from Ross Gaynor and Ciarán McGuigan just inside the final quarter-hour saw Dundalk snatch a late and unlikely 2-2 draw against Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds on Easter Monday night as they staged another dramatic comeback at the Connaught venue. The Lilywhites had fought back from a similar position to win 4-3 at the ground last August, and they went within inches of completing an identical turnaround only to be twice denied by the woodwork after Gaynor, with a fabulous finish, and McGuigan, with a bullet header, had combined to draw them level. However, at the end of a pulsating and thoroughly entertaining encounter, the Louth club left content with a point and the happier of the two sides.
Though Dundalk started on the front foot and created the better chances in the opening exchanges – captain Liam Burns in particular guilty of a glaring miss – the visitors found themselves behind on 27 minutes when Gary McCabe’s wonder strike from 25-yards nestled in the top corner. And the home side, despite being matched all the way and at times outplayed by their opponents, extended their advantage just over 20 minutes from time when centre-half Mauro Almeida rose unchallenged at the back post to convert McCabe’s corner, which had needlessly been conceded by Garry Breen. That looked to have sealed Sligo’s second win of the season, but Dundalk showed great character to fight back, former Bit O’ Red star Fahrudin Kuduzovic being instrumental as he created both goals. Firstly, he played in Gaynor who was coolness personified as he slotted the ball under ‘keeper Richard Brush, before, moments later, the Bosnian striker delivered a pinpoint corner to the back post where McGuigan was on hand to head home.
It was the second time in four games that Dundalk were forced to recover from two goals down, but it could have been so different if they had made their early possession and chances count where it mattered. In another bright start by Ian Foster’s side, they went in search of an early goal, although they were lucky not to concede on five minutes when Matthew Blinkhorn dispossessed Breen and fed Padraig Amond whose first-time shot was gathered easily by Peter Cherrie. Dundalk’s first real chance of the game came on nine minutes when Kuduzovic turned his man neatly before laying off to Tom Miller whose through-ball to Stephen Maher, who had made a great run into the box, had just too much weight on it as it ran through to Brush. Blinkhorn then blazed over for the hosts from a difficult angle following a quick break, but when Dundalk returned to attack on 24 minutes they should have broken the deadlock. Gaynor’s initial delivery across goal was put behind and the former Drogheda United winger’s corner to the back post was then headed goalwards by Maher. The 22-year-old’s effort was blocked only as far as Burns who completely miscued from six-yards.
That miss proved a game-changing moment as just three minutes later Sligo hit the front. McCabe picked up possession on the right and, from nowhere, drilled a superlative 25-yard shot to the far top corner, giving Cherrie no chance, with a strike which is sure to be a Goal of the Season contender come November. It was evident that the goal, which came against the run of play, rocked Dundalk and they had to cope with some strong pressure from Sligo before half-time, although they did begin to settle once more shortly before the interval. Both sides struggled to create clear openings in the second half, but Sligo doubled their lead on 69 minutes and again McCabe was key. This time the ex-Shelbourne and Bray Wanderers midfielder turned provider as his corner from the left was met by the head of the unmarked Almeida at the back post, the Portugal-native easily heading into an empty net. Conor O’Grady could have made it 3-0 shortly after but his powerful 18-yard shot whistled just wide. Then came Dundalk’s incredible two-goal haul as Gaynor and McGuigan netted in quick succession, but the drama wasn’t finished there as both sides had chances to win it in the final ten minutes.
On 84, substitute Johnny Breen chased down Brush and the ‘keeper’s attempted clearance rebounded off the striker and trickled towards goal, only for the ball to hit the post. Within 60 seconds, at the other end, Cherrie denied Blinkhorn with a world-class recovery save having initially parried Richie Ryan’s shot. Dundalk, however, continued on the attack and they camped inside the Sligo half in the final minutes in search of the winner. And they almost got it on 92 minutes when Gaynor’s corner to the near post got the slightest of touches, with the ball bouncing up and off the crossbar. Overall, Dundalk probably deserved to win, but it is most certainly a point gained and they will now go in search of their first league win over UCD since October 1998 when the Students roll into town this Friday, as the Lilywhites also chase their first victory at Oriel Park since last September.
Dundalkfc.com Man of the Match: FAHRUDIN KUDUZOVIC (DUNDALK) – it was a close call between Kuduzovic and Peter Cherrie, who was again magnificent and who once more saved Dundalk a point. Kuduzovic, however, gets the nod. The Bosnian-born star showed some wonderful touches, never stopped working and created both goals to put Dundalk back on level terms. Having had no pre-season game with the club, Faz is finally starting to find his feet and hopefully this performance is a sign of things to come.
SLIGO ROVERS FC (4-4-2): Richard Brush; Danny Ventre, Gavin Peers, Mauro Almeida, Alan Keane; Gary McCabe, Richie Ryan, Conor O’Grady, Eoin Doyle (Dean Marshall 67); Matthew Blinkhorn, Padraig Amond (Mark Doninger 62).
Goals: G McCabe (27), M Almeida (69).
Booked: C O’Grady (10), E Doyle (25), D Ventre (49).
Unused Subs: Ciarán Kelly (GK), John Dillon, Derek Foran.
DUNDALK FC (4-5-1): Peter Cherrie; Shaun Kelly, Garry Breen (Ciarán McGuigan 74), Liam Burns, Wayne Hatswell; Ross Gaynor, JJ Melligan, Tom Miller, Stephen Maher, Fahrudin Kuduzovic; Neale Fenn (Johnny Breen HT).
Goals: R Gaynor (76), C McGuigan (78).
Booked: R Gaynor (57).
Unused Subs: Matt Gregg (GK), Michael Synnott, Nathan Murphy.
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin).