Sami Ristilla’s side were gifted the lead in the 33rd minute when Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers miscontrolled a backpass from Andy Boyle, allowing Gary Shaw to slot home to an empty net.
They were then forced to defend in numbers and despite Brian Gartland levelling matters for the Lilywhites on 59 minutes there was to be no winner despite the home side having strong penalty appeals turned away near the end.
The result means Stephen Kenny’s side extend their lead at the top to five points, although this can be cut to two if Cork City win their game in hand. The home side were on top from the off with Sean Gannon passing up their best early opportunity when he blazed over from 15 yards out after Dane Massey’s cross from the left had fallen invitingly for him.
Rovers slowly grew into the game and had their first chance of note on 28 minutes when Shane Hanney’s cross from the right was glanced on by the head of Shaw only for the effort to be saved by Rogers.
Within five minutes Rogers was picking the ball out of his net after his howler but he did make slight amends on 36 minutes when he pushed away a vicious strike from Dave Webster from the edge of the area.
Stung by the scoreline, the champions finished the half strongly with many in attendance at Oriel Park thinking they had equalised a minute later when Massey’s pull back from Daryl Horgan’s through ball found McMillan who crashed his effort into the side-netting.
The Louth men went even closer a minute later when McEleney crashed a shot off the post with Robbie Benson’s follow up header being deflected just wide. Dundalk continued to press on the restart with Massey firing just over from a free kick on 57 minutes. Just two minutes later though the sides were level when Gartland stole in to meet McEleney’s inswinging free to head home from six yards out.
Ronan Finn then had a chance to fire Dundalk ahead on 64 minutes after being played in by Horgan but Barry Murphy denied him with a fine save at full stretch.
Massey then had a major penalty claim turned away 10 minutes from time. Horgan looked to have slipped him in with a superb ball only for the left back to go down under a challenge from Webster. It looked a definite penalty but referee Rob Rogers didn’t agree and booked the full back for a dive.
Despite that setback Dundalk kept pushing forward with Horgan having an effort tipped over by Murphy a minute from the end. As the game entered eight minutes of additional time Rovers had coach Stephen Bradley sent to the stands but they still managed to hold out with man of the match Webster blocking a Gartland header on the line before Massey had an overhead kick tipped over.
Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; McEleney, Benson (Mountney HT), O’Donnell, Horgan; Finn; McMillan (Kilduff 76). Subs not used: Shields, Grimes, Barrett, Shiels, Sava.
Murphy; Hanney (O’Connor 82) Cornwall, Heaney, Madden; McPhail, Webster; McCabe, Shaw (Cregg 70), McCabe Clarke; Boyd (Dobbs 82). Subs not used: Bolger, Brennan, Doona, Quinn.
R Rogers (Dublin).