Rovers beaten at Oriel Park
Dundalk dented Sligo Rovers' bid to win the Airtricity League Premier Division title again as they beat the reigning champions 2-0 at Oriel Park.
Pat Hoban's 11th league goal of the season set Dundalk on their way with a fine goal in the opening stages.
Substitute Chris Shields powered then home a second just shy of the hour mark as Stephen Kenny's side sent out another massive statement of intent with a victory that was all about grinding it out.
The pattern of the first-half was established early on. Dundalk looked nervy throughout the opening 45 minutes, pressed brilliantly by the Bit O'Red, and they just couldn't get into any sort of rhythm.
It was the visitors who had the first sighting of goal when Joseph Ndo's quick free-kick caught Dundalk napping on the right, but Alan Keane's cross was headed over by Gavin Peers
Dundalk took the lead with their first real attack of note after 15 minutes. Nothing looked on when Richie Towell headed a left wing cross towards the penalty spot but Hoban showed great strength and agility to somehow hold off Peers and hook the ball acrobatically past Gary Rogers.
Sligo's response to going a goal behind was impressive. The evergreen Ndo and Kieran Djilali bossed the midfield area and it was the former Crystal Palace man who almost levelled the scores in the 24th minute.
The opportunity arose when a Dundalk counter-attack, led by Hoban and John Dillon, broke down. Play switched to the other end of the pitch and Djilali showed great footwork to skip inside Brian Gartland only to see his curling effort go just wide.
Ian Baraclough's men also looked threatening from set-pieces and Peers should have dome better with a free header from a Djilali corner in the 38th minute, the Sligo Rovers skipper saw his header kiss the top of the crossbar.
Dundalk struggled to produce the attacking football that has been their trademark this season and the sound of the half-time whistle was a welcome relief to the Lilywhites.
Kenny reacted to Sligo's dominance in the middle of the park by introducing Chris Shields into a midfield three early in the second-half and what an inspired substitution it turned out to be.
The former Bray Wanderers player, the only outfield survivor from Dundalk's dismal 2012 campaign, lifted the Oriel Park faithful in the 55th minute with a perfectly timed sliding tackle on Djilali before setting Kurtis Byrne away on the left. His cross just evaded the outstretched legs of Hoban.
Dundalk were building a head of steam now and a sweeping move down the right gave the home support more encouragement. Mark Rossiter's fantastic pass found Richie Towell and his cross cum shot was turned over by Rogers.
That led to a sustained period of pressure by the home side as they pinned Sligo into their penalty area with three corners in succession, the third of which led to Shields' crucial goal.
Darren Meenan retrieved the ball on the byline and whipped in another sensational delivery which was met by the head of Shields who planted a header past Rogers' right hand.
The goal completely knocked the stuffing out of Sligo and the home side were denied what loped like a stonewall penalty in the 75th minute when Hoban went down under heavy pressure from Jeff Henderson.
Baraclough threw on Danny North in a bid to salvage something rom the game but Dundalk stood firm and saw the games out in style.
Dundalk: Cherrie; Rossiter, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Dillon (Shields 52), O’Donnell, Towell, Meenan; Byrne (Sullivan 87), Hoban (Faherty 90).
Sligo Rovers: Rogers; Keane, Peers, Henderson, Greene; Djilali, Ndo, Cawley, Conneely (North 65); Cretaro (Lynch 82), Elding.