Waterford United 0; Dundalk FC 1
Dundalk reclaimed the top-spot in the league table by virtue of this victory at the RSC on Friday night last. The vital goal came on 88 minutes when substitute Paul Smith broke the deadlock scoring from close range following a cross from the right by John Flanagan.
United had to play the entire second half with ten men and, as well as dropping the points, the defeat shattered their unbeaten home run in the league this season. While one never knows what is going to happen in football (think of United’s 5-1 hammering by Limerick the previous week) the result does appear to put paid to the Blues’ promotion ambitions.
With just three games to go, Dundalk are now five points above United. Shelbourne are in second place three points behind the leaders but they have a game in hand as their Saturday night fixture against Longford Town was called off due to the bad weather. Mind you, the Dubliners have still to visit the RSC so the Blues still have an important role in deciding who wins the Championship.
Due to the suspensions of Vinnie Sullivan, Kenny Browne and Luke Fitzpatrick plus the injury to Michael Foley, manager Gareth Cronin had limited options in picking his team and was unable to have a full complement of five substitutes on the bench.
For a variety of reasons, the game was charged with tension. Long before the kick-off, Dundalk’s resentment at Waterford being awarded two extra points by the FAI’s Independent Disciplinary Committee was almost palpable and the unofficial word around the ground from the County Louth club was that the decision would be challenged. The FAI had awarded Waterford two extra points from their no-score draw against Athlone at the RSC on October 3rd. The Midlanders, who were also fined €2,500, were punished for introducing a young player as a substitute who was not eligible to play.
It was likely there would be a flash-point at some stage on Friday night and it duly arrived just before the break and then spilled over into an extraordinary melee after the half-time whistle.
Waterford were reduced to ten men in the 43rd minute when Willie John Kiely received a straight red-card from referee Graham Kelly following a collision with goalkeeper Chris Bennion as they contested a 50/50 ball. As far as this writer was concerned it was a harsh decision, taken after consultation with the linesman, because both players’ momentum carried them into each other. However, it was adjudged that Kiely’s studs were up and he was gone.
Then, as the teams trooped off the pitch, all hell broke loose. The Dundalk goalkeeper, Chris Bennion, appeared to bang into the back of Waterford physio Eddie Jackman who appeared to retaliate and, within seconds, there was an ugly battle that progressed along the running track for several minutes involving practically everybody, including security men. It happened so quickly and was such a scrummage it was impossible to tell the peace-keepers from the aggressors.
Nobody was sent off or booked following the incident but, given the angry baying of the Dundalk fans, Jackman was asked by the gardai not to return to the dug-out in the second-half and he complied with their request.
The score could have been 1-1 after only seven minutes. After four minutes, United’s Kieran Fitzgerald lofted a high ball into the area that was back-headed towards his goalkeeper by Ben Whelehan. But Kiely arrived at speed and got a touch before Chris Bennion could gather only to see the ball trickle inches wide of the upright.
Three minutes later, it was Whelehan’s turn to drive a high ball into the Waterford area. David Cassidy ran behind the defence and his side-footed effort was only kept out by a superb, diving save from Packie Holden who knocked the ball away for a corner off the upright.
Just on the half-hour, David Cassidy spotted Holden off his line and his admirable effort from the corner-flag almost paid dividends but, thankfully for United, the ball skimmed the crossbar before nestling in the side-netting.
As the first-half wound down Dundalk had the upper hand and, on 35 minutes, Trevor Vaughan broke clear on goal from a Paul Shiels pass but his effort was weak and Holden collected comfortably.
While the Blues had their moments, the visitors still looked the most likely side to score in the second half. Stephen Quigley cleared off the Waterford goal-line on 63 minutes from a Whelehan header from a David Crawley corner from the right. Then, on 74 minutes, Jamie Duffy had a golden opportunity to give the visitors the lead but he shot harmlessly into the side-netting.
As Dundalk continued to pile on the pressure, Derek Doyle had the ball in the Waterford net on 79 minutes following an untidy passage of play but the ‘goal’ was ruled offside.
It looked like a scoreless draw was going to be the conclusion when Smith, on the pitch for eight minutes, popped up in front of goal to score.
Waterford United: Packie Holden, Stephen Quigley, Kevin Waters, David Breen, John Hayes (Robbie Clarke, 49 minutes), Kieran Fitzgerald, Dave Warren, David Grincell, Willie John Kiely, Paul McCarthy (Karl Bermingham, 59 minutes), Gary Dunphy (Joe Mulcahy, 74 minutes). Subs not used: Ben Spicer.
Dundalk FC: Chris Bennion, John Flanagan, David Crawley, Aiden Lynch, Ben Whelehan, Paul Shiels, Jamie Duffy, Paul Crowley (Paul Smith, 80 minutes), Vaughan (Paul Marney, 91 minutes), David Cassidy, Derek Doyle. Subs not used: David O’Connor, Simon Kelly, Aaron Shanahan.
Referee: Graham Kelly, Cork.