A difficult week for Dundalk continued at Oriel Park last night as they were frustrated by St Patrick’s Athletic in what could prove to be a major blow in their bid to retain their title.
Just 24 hours after burying groundsman and cameraman Harry Taaffe, who passed away last weekend, Vinny Perth’s side knew they could ill-afford to drop points on the restart having already trailed early pacesetters Shamrock Rovers by three from the opening five games in February and March.
Despite Patrick Hoban’s 100th goal for the club giving them a 23rd-minute advantage, former Lilywhite Robbie Benson cancelled it out within 80 seconds.
Indeed, it was Stephen O’Donnell’s side who looked the most likely winners after that as the champions struggled to get going without their usually vocal home crowd behind them.
The result means they could be five points off Rovers by the end of the weekend with Stephen Bradley’s side in action against Finn Harps this evening.
It was the visitors who started the brighter but their good work was undone on when Dundalk capitalised on a mistake to hit the front. A loose back pass by Rory Feely was missed by Luke McNally with Stefan Colovic nipping in to square for Hoban for what was his sixth goal of the season.
The lead would last just 80 seconds with Benson returning to haunt his old side as he crept in at the near post to turn Shane Griffin’s cross past Gary Rogers.
Indeed, the Richmond Park side could have been ahead on 33 minutes when Rogers’ clearance after coming off his line went only as far as Dan Ward who rounded the keeper only to see his effort come back off the post. David Titov’s follow up was then blocked on the line by Dane Massey.
The expected backlash from the hosts didn’t arrive on the restart with Ward going close again with an effort that was deflected over by Boyle before Feely also went close with a header from the resultant corner.
Gibson then pulled a shot just wide on 53 minutes before Shields whistled a shot over four minutes later in what was Dundalk’s first attempt of the half.
The Lilywhites then somehow failed to take the lead on 64 minutes when Duffy’s free picked out the unmarked Greg Sloggett in the six-yard box but he could only head over from point-blank range.
Despite plenty of intent from the hosts, it was Pat’s who had the best chance of winning it late on with substitute Martin Rennie pulling a shot just wide. It was a good point for the Inchicore men but how costly could it prove for Dundalk in their pursuit for a third league title in-a-row?
Rogers; Gannon, Cleary, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Sloggett (Mountney 85); Colovic (Kelly 53), Flores (McEleney 53) (McMillan 75), Duffy (Oduwa 85); Hoban.
Clarke; Feely, McNally, Desmond; Lennon; Titov, Ward (Markey 89), Forrester, Benson, Griffin; Gibson (Rennie 80).
Rob Harvey (Dublin)