Airtricity Premier Division: Dundalk 5 Bray Wanderers 1
Dundalk put down a serious marker in the race for the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title after crushing Bray Wanderers at Oriel Park last night to move three points clear at the top of the table.
Fresh from their superb, if ultimately fruitless, 2-1 victory over Hajduk Split in the Europa League on Thursday, Stephen Kenny’s side put the Seagulls to the sword as they capitalised on Cork City’s shock 2-0 defeat to Bohemians at Dalymount Park the previous night.
Pat Hoban and Kurtis Byrne both grabbed a brace each on the night as the Lilywhites opened up a three-point lead at the summit and moved nine points clear of fellow title chasers Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic.
The border outfit are well aware that they can put real daylight between themselves and the chasing pack if they can beat Cork in Turner’s Cross next Friday night.
Alan Mathews’ visitors were the last side to beat Dundalk in the league when they won 1-0 at the Carlisle Grounds at the end of April, but they never looked like threatening an upset here as they slipped to a sixth consecutive defeat.
Despite only arriving back from Croatia 48 hours earlier, the home side hit the ground running and took the lead as early as the third minute in what was a fine example of counter-attacking football.
A wonderful pass from Hoban released Richie Towell on the left. His header then played in Byrne, who saw his effort parried by Shane Redmond. However, Towell was on hand to apply the finish from an acute angle on the left.
The Lilywhites continued to apply the pressure, with Daryl Horgan and Hoban going close with headers.
The second goal arrived on 25 minutes after a mix-up in the Bray defence. Hoban’s cross from the right was missed by both Jake Kelly and Joe Gorman allowing Darren Meenan to get a shot away on the right. His effort was pushed clear by Redmond but Byrne was on hand to slam home the loose ball to put the league leaders firmly in the driving seat.
Bray did up the ante in the second half but their challenge pretty much evaporated when Dundalk added a third goal in the 58th minute. Byrne robbed Michael Barker of possession on the left before crossing for the inrushing Hoban to slide home.
The Lilywhites then added a fourth four minutes later with Towell teeing up Byrne for a first-time shot from 25 yards that flashed into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Peter Cherrie was only really called into action for the first time in the 80th minute when he turned a Shane O’Neill shot around the post, but he was beaten seven minutes from time when Ismahil Akinade was played in on goal before drilling low under the keeper.
Dundalk responded in the best possible fashion, though, as Hoban drilled home his second of the night two minutes later to send out clear title warning to Cork City and the rest of the chasing pack.
DUNDALK: Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan (Mountney 81), Higgins, Towell, Horgan (McDermott 63); Byrne (McMillan 87); Hoban.
BRAY WANDERERS: Redmond; Barker, O’Connor, Mitchell, Gorman; Akinade, Zambra, G Kelly (McGill 69), Cassidy (Coombes 76), J Kelly; Hughes (O’Neill 65).
Referee: T Connolly (Dublin).
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