Waterford FC 1-0 Dundalk FC
Dundalk’s hopes of qualifying for Europe in 2021 took another jolt at the RSC on Sunday as John Martin’s 57th-minute header gave Waterford all three points to blow the race for third spot wide open.
Filippo Giovagnoli’s side controlled much of the first half but they paid the price for not capitalising on it when Martin guided a fine header past Aaron McCarey to put Fran Rockett’s ahead – and back into the hunt for a European spot.
Dundalk huffed and puffed after that and substitute Patrick Hoban almost snatched a point with a couple of late efforts but they couldn’t find the breakthrough and referee Sean Grant’s final whistle signalled a fifth league defeat in 16 games.
Sitting in third place, the Lilywhites are still in control of their own destiny but the result leaves the door ajar for Waterford, Sligo Rovers, Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic to pip them to the post in the final weeks of the domestic campaign.
Giovagnoli made six changes to the side that played Molde on Thursday evening but Dundalk’s opening matched the bright October afternoon in the sunny south-east. Ten minutes had elapsed when Michael Duffy set Stefan Colovic in on the right but his cutback couldn’t find any of his incoming teammates and was cleared by a blue shirt.
Two minutes later, Duffy was denied the opener when veteran Waterford goalkeeper Brian Murphy flung himself to the left to claw away the winger’s effort after Jordan Flores teed him up with a delicious touch inside the penalty area.
Duffy has Waterford back-peddling again shortly after. His pass inside found Flores but the midfielder’s sweeping drive was blocked before it could spell any trouble for Murphy.
The half continued in much the same vein with Dundalk controlling most of the possession but Giovagnoli’s side just couldn’t find the killer pass in the final third.
Waterford, who needed the three points to keep their European hopes alive, surprisingly lacked a spark throughout the majority of the opening 45 minutes but they were almost gifted the opening goal just before the break.
Chris Shields’s pass across the face of goal deflected off the shins of John Martin and fell kindly into the path of Daryl Murphy. The former Irish international went past Brian Gartland but dragged his effort agonisingly wide of Aaron McCarey’s post.
Murphy threatened again shortly after, spinning onto a John Martin pass to let fly with a vicious left-footed effort from 18 yards that Aaron McCarey did extremely well to hold and the half ended scoreless with Flores and Sean Murray both missing the target before Sean Grant’s whistle.
Dundalk started the second half in a similar fashion to the way they ended the first with David McMillan’s header gathered by Murphy. The ‘keeper then showed safe hands to gather a Flores header back across the face of goal.
Martin broke the deadlock two minutes later when he met a Will Fitzgerald cross to bury a downward header into McCarey’s right-hand corner. It came after Dundalk’s appeals for a handball against Murphy in the build-up were waved away by the officials.
Things opened up after that with Murphy going close with an audacious effort from inside his own half and Giovagnoli responded by freshening things up with Patrick Hoban, Patrick McEleney, Sean Gannon and Darragh Leahy all introduced before the 65th minute.
It was Waterford who looked the most likely, however, and McCarey kept Dundalk in the game with a brilliant close-range stop from Daryl Murphy after a goal kick from his namesake Brian completely exposed the Lilywhites back four.
Hoban had a couple of late chances to make it 1-1 but he just couldn’t hit the target and Dundalk travel to London next week to face Arsenal on Matchday 2 of the Europa League with a lot of work still to do on the home front.
WATERFORD: Brian Murphy; Darragh Power, Jake Davidson, Robert Weir, Tyreke Wilson; Niall O’Keeffe, Allistar Coote; Will Fitzgerald (Will Longbottom 66), John Martin (Tunmise Sobowale 74), Matthew Smith; Daryl Murphy. Subs not used: Tadgh Ryan (GK), Kurtis Byrne, Dean Walsh, Alex Phelan, Shane Griffin.DUNDALK FC: Aaron McCarey; John Mountney, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Cameron Dummigan (Darragh Leahy 65); Chris Shields (Greg Sloggett 77), Jordan Flores (Patrick Hoban 61); Stefan Colovic (Sean Gannon 65), Sean Murray (Patrick McEleney 61, Michael Duffy; David McMillan. Subs not used: Gary Rogers (GK), Sean Hoare.
REFEREE: Sean Grant.