St Patrick’s Athletic 1-1 Dundalk FC
Robbie Benson came back to haunt Dundalk again at a rain-drenched Richmond Park on Sunday evening as the midfielder secured Stephen O’Donnell’s St Patrick’s Athletic a well-earned share of the spoils that ensures the race for third place will go to the final day.
Patrick Hoban’s 10th goal of the season gave Dundalk the lead at the break but Benson, who also scored in the return game at Oriel Park after the restart, placed a brilliant header past Gary Rogers to deny the Lilywhites a victory that would have secured them European football next season.
As it stands, Filippo Giovagnoli’s men are still in pole position to finish third but everything will be decided in the final round of games on Sunday week when Dundalk welcome Sligo Rovers to Oriel Park, just 72 hours after they play Rapid Wien in Austria.
Giovagnoli made five changes to the side that played Arsenal three nights earlier with Sean Hoare, Sean Gannon, Darragh Leahy, Greg Sloggett and Stefan Colovic all restored to the starting XI. Patrick McEleney and Sean Murray missed out completely.
Pat’s, who knew that three points were essential to keep their hopes of a top-four finish alive, passed the ball brightly in the opening 20 minutes but the Lilywhites defended well and Brian Gartland made an impressive challenge to stop Jordan Gibson in his tracks after the greasy surface caused Sean Hoare problems.
The hosts’ clearest opening arrived in the 20th minute but Gary Rogers made a brilliant save to deny Billy King after the Scottish attacker cut in from the right to hammer his effort at goal. Rogers stood tall to keep him out.
That stop proved to be even more crucial as Dundalk hit the front just two minutes later. Picking the ball up on the right, Stefan Colovic whipped in a deep ball to the far post and Darragh Leahy stabbed the ball across the face of goal for Hoban to gobble it up.
Pat’s squandered another opening to pull level five minutes later when Gibson skipped around Rogers but he took too long to shoot and, with Hoare providing cover on the line, he smacked his effort off target, much to the frustration of his teammates.
Hoban was unlucky to see a left-footed effort go wide of the upright after he did brilliantly to hold off Luke McNally and create something out of nothing before Stephen O’Donnell and his players were left frustrated when referee Paul McLaughlin waved away their appeal for a penalty before the break when the ball flew at Greg Sloggett from close range.
The rain, thankfully, let up at the start of the second half but the swirling wind made life difficult for both teams. Dundalk, again, looked very well drilled at the back and a sensational Leahy cross deserved better in the 53rd minute but there was nobody in a black shirt there to capitalise.
Pat’s equalised 10 minutes later when Benson stole a yard on Sean Hoare to rise brilliantly and plant a magnificent header past Rogers after Rory Feely swung in a cross from the right. Giovagnoli reacted by switching his wing-backs with Cameron Dummigan and John Mountney coming on for Leahy and Sean Gannon respectively.
Benson’s goal set up a frantic finale and Michael Duffy saw an effort deflected over the top before Brendan Clarke denied David McMillan with 10 minutes to play after the substitute was set up by Hoban but, with the rain beginning to fall heavily again, the game petered out to a conclusion that will be of little satisfaction to either side.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Brendan Clarke; Lee Desmond, Luke McNally, Ian Bermingham; Rory Feely, Chris Forrester, Jamie Lennon, Shane Griffin; Billy King (Darragh Burns 78), Jordan Gibson (James Doona 85), Robbie Benson. Subs not used: Conor Kearns (GK), Jason McClelland, David Titov, Paul Cleary, Ben McCormack
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Daniel Cleary (Andy Boyle 75), Brian Gartland, Sean Hoare; Sean Gannon (John Mountney 64), Greg Sloggett, Chris Shields, Darragh Leahy (Cameron Dummigan 64); Stefan Colovic (Jordan Flores 55), Patrick Hoban, Michael Duffy (David McMillan 75). Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), Jamie Wynne.
REFEREE: Paul McLaughlin.