On the night that Bray Wanderers all but ensured their safety, Dundalk failed to keep up their side of the bargain and handed advantage to Cork City ahead of their final-day showdown on Friday, despite coming from a goal down.
It took the Seagulls just 28 seconds at a hazardous Carlisle Grounds to rattle the Lilywhites’ cages when David Cassidy fired home after Dean Zambra’s shot had been pushed out by Peter Cherrie.
Dundalk, buoyed on by their boisterous following, tried to force the issue against their hosts and saved face with Pat Hoban’s 64th minute leveller. But the weather and the resolute Bray side contrived to deny them the victory they so badly craved.
With Cork City managing victory over Bohemians, it is the Leesiders who now head into the Oriel Park showpiece finale knowing anything but a defeat will hand them the title.
As for Wanderers, this point means barring a crazy set of results next week, they will enjoy an 11th consecutive season in the Premier Division next term.
Both the rain and the Dundalk fans came flooding to the Seaside prior to kick-off. Cassidy’s first-minute strike did little to halt the monsoon, but it did quieten the Louth men significantly.
Eric McGill swung in a cross from the right, Dave Scully knocked it into Dean Zambra’s path, he managed to control it, turn, and get the shot away, but Peter Cherrie pushed it out. When Cassidy reacted first, the next step was inevitable, as he drilled it through a gap to hand his side the lead. Brian Gartland glanced Richie Towell’s free kick narrowly wide on 19 minutes and then, on 33 minutes, Daryl Horgan collected a throw-in from Dane Massey before dancing in off the left and unleashing a shot that Stephen McGuinness had to turn around the post.
Cherrie was then called into similar action as he pushed Dave Scully’s curler behind, but it was the visitors who continued to push for a goal before the interval.
Darren Meenan almost fluked it when his 50-yard free kick evaded everyone and whizzed inches wide of McGuinness’ far post.
McGuinness then had to get his hands dirty to deny Meenan on the stroke of half time. Pat Hoban’s flick-on released the winger, he shrugged off Michael Barker and thought he’d rounded McGuinness, but the 19-year-old sprawled himself to halt Meenan at the last.
Dundalk upped the ante for the second period and Hoban met Massey’s 54th minute left-wing cross with considerable force but sent it wide.
Hoban corrected his radar 10 minutes later as he powered home Meenan’s cross from the right.
Two minutes previously, the Lilywhites had a lucky escape as Jake Kelly planted a Dave Scully cross against Cherrie’s crossbar. Dundalk seemed to run out of ideas and momentum in the closing stages even with Stephen O’Donnell on the pitch and they could break down the stubborn home defence.
Dundalk will know that better is required ahead of their do-or-die clash against Cork City.
BRAY WANDERERS: McGuinness; McGill, Cooney, Webster, Barker; J. Kelly (Hughes 89), Zambra, G. Kelly, Hanlon; Cassidy; Scully.
DUNDALK: Cherrie; Gannon (O’Donnell 62), Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields (McDermott 88), Towell; Meenan, Byrne (Mountney H/T), Horgan; Hoban.
Referee: D. McKeon (Meath).
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