Shamrock Rovers may have earned a point at league leaders Dundalk last night but it was the fans of Cork City who were really celebrating as the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title race was blown wide open at Oriel Park.
The game was a tale of two penalties, one missed by Rovers’ Ryan Brennan and one not given to Stephen Kenny’s side in stoppage time after Simon Madden had clearly handled in the area.
Knowing a win would have allowed them to virtually claim the title with victory away to Bray Wanderers on Friday, Dundalk created the bulk of the openings in a pulsating game.
However, their failure to find the net means that if both they and Cork win on Friday — Cork face Bohs at Turner’s Cross — the title will be decided on the last night of the seasonbetween the two leading contenders at Oriel Park the following Friday night.
Rovers started brightly last night without ever threatening and Dundalk slowly got on top towards the end of a nervy first half.
Chances then began to flow Dundalk’s way at the start of the second half, with leading scorer Pat Hoban heading over from a Darren Meenan corner on 54 minutes.
They were unfortunate not to find the net on the hour mark when Meenan drilled a ball across a crowded six-yard box only for it to evade everyone. Then came the real drama.
Karl Sheppard’s run into the area on 77 minutes was halted as keeper Peter Cherrie rushed off his line but only connected with the Hoops man.
However, the majority of the Oriel Park crowd were all smiles soon after as Brennan slipped as he planted his left foot and he blazed his spot-kick over Cherrie’s crossbar.
Dundalk immediately went back on the attack as they sought the goal that would be enough for them to get one hand on the championship trophy. Stephen O’Donnell headed wide from another Meenan cross before going even closer with a half-volley that shaved the outside of the post.
The title favourites were then denied what looked a stonewall penalty in the first minute of added time when former Lilywhite Simon Madden used his hand to stop O’Donnell going round him in the penalty area.
Rovers were reduced to 10 men in the 93rd minute when Patrick Cregg walked for a second yellow card but the clock ran out on the home side’s hopes of making their advantage count.
It remains to be seen if their title dream has gone the same way.
DUNDALK: Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan, Shields (Higgins 73), Towell, Horgan (Griffin 83); Byrne (O’Donnell 59); Hoban.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy; Madden, Kenna, McGuinness, Byrne; McPhail; McCabe (Sheppard 67), Cregg, Brennan, Waters (Waters 86); Kilduff.
Referee: R Rogers (Dublin).