Sean Ó Murchú reports from Tallaght Stadium
Dundalk secured their place atop the Premier Division for at least another few days as they comfortably beat Shamrock Rovers 5-2 at Tallaght Stadium.
It looked like it could be a very long night for the Lilywhites when Dan Carr gave Rovers a early lead, but goals from Patrick Hoban, Dan Cleary, Dane Massey and a brace from Robbie Benson saw Dundalk to victory.
Rovers enjoyed the perfect start on the fourth minute as striker Carr scored from a Dundalk error. From a throw deep in his own half Robbie Benson gave the ball straight to Joel Coustrain whose cross was turned goalwards by Brian Gartland.
Gary Rogers saved excellently but Carr was there to pounce on the loose ball. His close range finish at the near post showed all the instincts of a star poacher.
Rovers dominate the game in the opening period, playing through Coustrain and Carr especially. The Dundalk defence were chasing shadows at times trying to keep up with the dynamic attaching threat posed by the home team.
Dundalk conceded numerous fouls in the early exchanges as they were pinned back but referee Connolly kept his cards in his pocket.
A Rovers corner resulted in a close-range chance for Carr to double his tally but Rogers made an excellent save from point blank range to keep the difference at only a single goal.
Rovers continued to look to play through Carr as the game began to settle approaching midway point in the first half.
The big front man was causing all sorts of problems for the Dundalk defence, who seemed incapable of dealing with his size and strength.
The Lilywhites were limited to half chances on the break most notably an effort blazed over the bar from the edge of the box by Michael Duffy in the 19th minute.
Rovers' star man Carr was lost to what appeared to be a head injury after 24 minutes. Gary Shaw came on to replace him up front.
This change allowed Dundalk to pass the ball around the back in the fashion they have become accustomed to without Carr harassing them at every opportunity.
The Lilywhites grew more into the game as the half wore on and the Rovers defence had to survive a few hairy moments even if they conceded no clear-cut chances.
The breakthrough eventually came though as Duffy cut inside excellently to create space for himself just outside the box.
His floated cross picked out Hoban at point blank range and the Galway man managed to guide his header perfectly to the far corner of the home goal.
Rovers were certainly beginning to rue the abundance of chances they didn’t capitalise on early in the half and welcomed the half time whistle as the visiting team were beginning to turn the screw.
Not much had changed after the whistle though as Dundalk continued to heap pressure on the home side.
This pressure eventually told on the hour as Dan Cleary rose to meet a high, floated free kick in from Duffy again and his excellent glancing header brought life to the second half.
Dundalk looked to seal the win through Dane Massey only three minutes later. His near post strike should have been dealt with by Tomer Chencinski but the ball snuck in at the Canadian's near post.
Dundalk at this stage were in full flow and the Rovers defence could only hang on and hope to weather the storm.
The attacking trio in midfield of Duffy, Jamie McGrath and Dylan Connolly were beginning to enjoy a lot of space between the lines as the home midfield tried to push up and pressurise the visitors.
Rovers however managed to pull a goal back against the run of play on the 70th minute as a speculative effort from Brandon Kavanagh hit the crossbar.
Rogers had already committed to his dive and Roberto Lopes, who perhaps should have been sent off in the first half, was there for the simple tap in.
The Hoops celebrations only lasted mere seconds though as Dundalk took advantage of the distracted Rovers defence.
Robbie Benson found himself in space breaking into the box and the midfielder slotted the ball beautifully into the bottom corner with a level of composure to inspire envy in any striker.
The two quickfire goalscorers clashed again only a minute later as Lopes had his seemingly goal-bound header cleared off the Dundalk line by Benson.
Not content with that Benson put the cherry on the Dundalk cake by scoring his second and Dundalk’s fifth when he capitalised on an excellent through-ball from Kriszten Adorjan.
A completely crazy five minutes had come to an end and the tie looked dead in the water. Chants of “We want Bradley out” were roared from the East Stand as Rovers sank to their eighth loss of the season.
Shamrock Rovers: Tomer Chencinski; Ethan Boyle, Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes, Luke Byrne; Aaron Bolger (Brandon Kavanagh 70), Greg Bolger; Joel Coustrain, Ronan Finn (David McAllister 46), Sean Kavanagh, Dan Carr (Gary Shaw 24).
Subs not used: Gavan Bazunu, Ally Gilchrist, Joey O’Brien, Dean Dillon.
Booking: Roberto Lopes (14), Sean Kavanagh (54).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Hoare, Brian Gartland, Dan Cleary, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson; Dylan Connolly (Kristian Adorjan 67), Jamie McGrath (Karolis Chvedukas 86), Michael Duffy; Pat Hoban (Marco Tagbajumi 88).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Stephen Folan, Ronan Murray, Dean Jarvis.
Booking: Dan Cleary (61).
Referee: Ben Connolly.
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Robbie Benson (Dundalk).