The margin for error in the curtailed season is slim and the urgency on the Dundalk bench in the final minutes highlighted their awareness of that.
n a normal year, a draw in the sixth game of the season is no cause for panic. But the champions can’t afford to drop too many more points. After a difficult week, it would be harsh to go overboard on their struggles here.
Perhaps the main takeaway is that St Patrick’s Athletic have signed well and now look a different side under Stephen O’Donnell. Dundalk may view them as a side that can cause Shamrock Rovers damage.
The lessons of other leagues suggested that the early closed doors games would be flat affairs but this was decent with the well-drilled Saints setting out with a purpose that suggested they had maximised preparation time.
O’Donnell sent out a team in a similar shape to the one favoured by Rovers with a compact box of four in the centre of midfield supported by wing-backs all feeding towards lone striker Jordan Gibson, a new recruit from Bradford. They were sprightly and exposed local lethargy.
But they still fell behind midway through the half, with the frustration for O’Donnell coming from the fact that the wound was self-inflicted with confusion in the back three and Luke McNally slack in response to a Rory Feely pass with Dundalk’s Serbian capture Stefan Colovic alert to nip in and square for Patrick Hoban’s 100th Dundalk goal.
However, the Saints cancelled it out almost immediately with a strike that would have been eerily familiar to Dundalk fans. Robbie Benson, who followed O’Donnell to Inchicore over the winter, made a trademark untracked run into the penalty area and found the perfect angle to steer Shane Griffin’s delivery home.
It was fully deserved and the Saints might have nabbed another when a stray Dane Massey ball created a madcap passage that culminated with Dan Ward striking the post before Latvian newcomer David Titov’s effort was scooped off the line by Chris Shields.
Michael Duffy was close to converting a clever Colovic pass before the break, yet it was Dundalk that entered half-time with a greater need for discussion, Saints pressure leaving the natives searching for a plan to play through the press.
After a sluggish restart, with Ward and Gibson threatening lead goals, Perth made a swift double sub with Patrick McEleney and Dan Kelly brought in to vary their midfield threat. Pressure followed but the inclusion of McEleney was a gamble that didn’t pay off and he lasted 22 minutes through injury.
That came after a let-off for Dan Cleary as he clipped down Gibson when he appeared to be the last man with St Pat’s regaining energy. Dave McMillan’s introduction as a second striker was just one of five changes made by Vinny Perth. They didn’t succeed in turning the screw.
Dundalk: Rogers, Gannon, Cleary, Boyle, Massey; Shields; Colovic (Kelly 53), Sloggett (Mountney 85), Flores (McEleney 53; McMillan 75), Duffy (Oduwa 85); Hoban.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Clarke, Feely, McNally, Desmond; Titov, Lennon, Forrester (McClelland 67), Griffin; Ward (Markey 89), Benson; Gibson (Rennie 80).
Ref: Rob Harvey