Almost a relief that tonight’s game is away, given our form at The Showgrounds
IF the FAI began to reward teams points for gritty performances away from home, Sligo Rovers would still find themselves in and around the same spot as we are today albeit a few points closer to seventh spot.
There was a hard luck story against Cork City in April, while nobody could have argued had the Bit O’Red taken three points from Waterford later that month.
Again there was an admirable, determined performance on the road last week. This time Rovers had to settle for nothing but the appreciation and applause from the small band of away supporters at full-time at Oriel Park.
From the early viewing, Dundalk looked like they would hand us a similar spanking as they did on our last visit there just one day short of a year previous. Jamie McGrath supplied the hat-trick that day as the Lilywhites went on to trounce us by four goals to nil.
A viciously dangerous Dundalk attack bombarded the Rovers goalmouth in the first 15 to 20 minutes. An opener was inevitable but it came in rather discouraging and questionable circumstances.
Having fended off wave after wave of attack, Patrick McClean failed to clear the ball at the first attempt, allowing Dylan Connolly to steady himself and hound the Derry man. McClean seemed to make contact with the ball first as the Dundalk winger ran across in front of him.
Contact was inevitable and Connolly went to ground quickly as he could. Unfortunately there are no replays available early on a Saturday morning but on first inspection, it seemed Rovers were hard done by.
Supporters were critical of how we seemed to throw in the towel once one down against Bohs two weeks ago and the criticism management and team received was totally just. But the difference between the two games was our attitude.
Despite being behind, we pushed Dundalk back and had we that presence up top we’ve lacked for the majority of the season, we would have troubled Gary Rogers more.
The front three of Raff Cretaro, Greg Moorhouse and Caolan McAleer could not have been faulted for their foraging up top. But again we didn’t look menacing in front of goal.
Another referee might have rewarded McAleer for his bravery when he collided with Rogers before the same man’s pace was too much for the former Sligo goalkeeper on the stroke of half-time.
His assistant and not the hesitant Tomas Connolly allowing the creative Rhys McCabe to level the game from the spot.
Dundalk regrouped and re-started their siege on the Rovers goal in the second half. I’ve been critical of Kyle Callan-McFadden in recent weeks but his showing on Friday was akin to the KCM of the latter portion of 2017.
Determined and decisive, the Rovers captain enjoyed an authoritative return to form, keeping Pat Hoban relatively quiet in play. That of course, until a momentary lapse allowed the Galway man to sneak in for what again felt like a Dundalk winner that was always going to come.
The value of an out and out goal-scorer in the League of Ireland right in front of our eyes.
Our own goal-scorer Adam Morgan was given a half hour but due to Dundalk’s dominance and what seemed like an injury to David Cawley, Morgan’s influence in dangerous areas was stunted. With pivotal games against St Pat’s (tonight) and Shams on Saturday, it’s imperative Morgan is both fed and comes up with the goods over the next five days.
It’s almost a relief that tonight’s game isn’t in front of our own supporters. Be it a collective nervousness or the way teams play against us at the Showgrounds, our home from in 2018 has been poor.
The players don’t have to worry about that this evening as we make our way to Inchicore for what is the twice rescheduled game with the Saints.
Defeat tonight would open up a 12 point gap between ourselves and Pat’s, a team we should really be in and around this season.
They’ve only been beaten once at home this season. It was hard to fathom how the team that almost took a point from Oriel was largely the same one who bowed so easily to Bohs. So tonight we must see the same levels as the ones the players came out with last Friday.
The draw for the last four of the EA Sports Cup saw Rovers paired with Derry following last week’s narrow win over a largely second-string Waterford side. It’ll be interesting to see come August where we are in terms of points accumulated.
Hopefully our home form will have dramatically improved by then.