Dundalk moved to third position in this year's SSE Airtricity League Premier Division and dealt Sligo Rovers an early blow to any aspirations they may have of winning this year's title as they came away with a 1-0 win at the Showgrounds on Saturday night. A 92nd minute header from Dane Massey stole the points for Dundalk against a Rovers side who were reduced to ten men early on after Ross Gaynor was dismissed after just ten minutes of play.
The home side were without Raffaele Cretaro who underwent surgery on a recurring calf injury during the week. He joined Gavin Peers (knee) on the Sligo long-term injury list. Manager Ian Baraclough made three changes to the side who were defeated by Bray Wanderers last week. Jeff Henderson, Aaron Greene and Sean Maguire replacing Kalen Spillane, Danny Ledwith and Paul O'Conor respectively.
The Lillywhites travelled to Sligo for their first league game outside of County Louth without Keith Ward (knee), Mark Rossiter (hamstring) and the suspended Simon Kelly.
Stephen Kenny made two changes from last Friday's 2-1 win over Limerick with John Mountney and Sean Gannon taking their places in the Dundalk eleven in place of David McMillan and Rossiter respectively.
The FAI Cup holders set out their stall to attack but it was the away side who threatened first. On six minutes, Darren Meenan did well to skip by the challenge of Gaynor before finding the head of Pat Hoban, but the latter's header from distance failed to trouble Rovers goalkeeper Gary Rogers.
John Russell went close with a header of his own at the back post from a well struck Gaynor free kick from the edge of the area moments later, seconds before Richie Towell fluffed his lines having been set up by Mountney. Towell ballooning his attempted volley from just inside the 18 yard box..
The overall complexion of the game changed significantly as early as the tenth minute when Rovers were reduced to ten men. Meenan latched on to the end of a long punt from Peter Cherrie before referee Dave McKeon adjudged Gaynor to have upended Meenan as he made his way toward goal. With Gaynor being the last man, McKeon showed no hesitation in showing him a red card against his former club.
Sligo did well to deal with Dundalk's attacking threat in the minutes following Gaynor's red. Dundalk pressed Sligo hard and almost found joy as Mountney nearly put Dundalk ahead on 27 minutes.
Having originally out-paced Alan Keane over 30 yards, the Mayo native saw his shot well saved by Rogers. The resulting rebound fell to Mountney once more who was unlucky to see his second effort deflect off the butt of the Sligo post before being cleared to safety.
Henderson almost turned the ball into his own net three minutes before the break. In an attempt to clear Stephen O'Donnell's cross, the former Newcastle United man sliced his clearance only to see the ball fizz narrowly wide of the near post with Rogers left flat-footed as the teams went in scoreless at the break.
Rovers were forced into a change seven minutes into the second half as Danny Ledwith, who had previously replaced Sean Maguire after 14 minutes was forced off with injury. Paul O'Conor was introduced in his place, while Aaron Greene moved to left back with O'Conor setting up camp in the centre of midfield.
Towell sent his drive from 20 yards high into the night sky on 56 minutes while Cherrie had to be alert to pick up O'Conor's cross as it made its way across his goal mouth five minutes later with Odhiambo prowling at the back post.
Dundalk were fortunate not to be reduced to ten men on 64 minutes. Daryl Horgan's over-zealous challenge on John Russell near the half-way line resulted in referee McKeon to only produce a yellow card, much to the frustration of the majority of the 1,763 souls in attendance.
Sligo had to rely on the quick thinking of Rogers to keep Dundalk out on 74 minutes during a second half bereft of goal scoring chances. Horgan's cross from the right was met by the head of Hoban at the edge of the six yard box. Rogers quickly shuffled his feet and deflected the ball away as Dundalk pushed the Bit o'Red further and further back into their own half.
With Ian Baraclough's side looking as if they had salvaged a point, Dundalk captured all three in the 92nd minute to delight their travelling support. David McMillan's pot shot was deflected away for a corner by Keane before Ruaidhri Higgins' corner was sent to the far post. Massey rose highest to nod past Rogers and break Sligo hearts.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Jeff Henderson, Evan McMillan, Ross Gaynor; Eric Odhiambo (for Seamus Conneely 88), John Russell, David Cawley, Aaron Greene; Sean Maguire ((for Danny Ledwith 14) for Paul O'Conor 52)); Danny North.
Subs not used: Richard Brush, Liam Flately, Jake Dykes, Kalen Spillane.
Dundalk: Petter Cherrie; Sean Gannon (for Ruaidhri Higgins 85), Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Daryl Horgan, Richie Towell, John Mountney (for David McMillan 56), Stephen O'Donnell, Darren Meenan (for Kurtis Byrne 68); Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Chris Shields, Mark Griffin, Manuel Kaguako.
Referee: Dave McKeon