The odds on goalkeepers Nathan Sheppard and Leon Pohls emerging as leading performers in this encounter would have been lengthier than the biggest priced horse running at Cheltenham this week but this League of Ireland season is not exactly running to script.
hey were both called upon to make big saves in a game where both sides controlled a half with Dundalk’s Welsh U-21 keeper Sheppard, who gave away a late penalty at Tolka Park on Friday, producing a stunning second half save to push away Aaron Greene’s downward header Gordon Banks style.
Pohls, the rarely seen deputy to the unwell Alan Mannus, twice denied Patrick Hoban from close range to make his own mark on a game that was more entertaining than the scoreline suggests.
Hoban will be this morning reflecting on an injury time miss with the goal gaping that would have delivered an unlikely conclusion.
Still, the outcome means Dundalk extends their unbeaten record under Stephen O’Donnell, albeit with five draws in six. There are clear signs they are on the right track.
At St Pat’s last term, O’Donnell frequently operated with two up front against the three man Hoops defense and he did the same here to set the tone with John Martin and Pat Hoban at the forefront of a press that made it tricky for the champions .
They struggled to play through it and they had more success with a direct ball over the top, their best first half chance coming from that avenue with Richie Towell’s strike denied by a fine Sheppard save.
Dundalk were the better side at this juncture, and put pressure on Pohls. Obviously, there was a tactic to drop any dead balls in right on top of the German but he did rise to the challenge after a nervous start to push away a Hoban header.
An early fumble from a cross resulted in a Robbie Benson snapshot off the woodwork with a rotated Rovers side struggling to find any rhythm. Danny Mandroiu was trialled as a central striker, with Graham Burke and Jack Byrne operating deeper yet the trio weren’t able to get the ball on the deck in threatening areas before the interval.
Burke did contribute at the other end by appearing to a hack a Mark Connolly header off the line in a crowded area with the deliveries of Benson and Lewis Macari consistently asking questions of the visitors.
After the restart, though, Burke did get to show his creative quality, releasing Mandroiu with a terrific pass; the 23-year-old lacked conviction and shot straight at Sheppard. And this was the trigger for a spell of prolonged Rovers dominance where they managed to get the Dundalk defense turned and find gaps with good movement. Towell struck the woodwork from a Byrne pass in a spell where a lead goal seemed inevitable.
It was Byrne’s replacement, Greene, that came closest with Sheppard’s heroics drawing an ovation from the home fans. Dundalk would have taken a point at that juncture, but Hoban’s uncharacteristic miss at the death meant both sides could reasonably craft a hard luck story.
Dundalk: Sheppard, Macari, Connolly, Boyle, Bone; Benson, Sloggett, Williams (McMillan 88), Adams (Ward 75); Hoban, Martin
Shamrock Rovers: Pohls, Hoare, Lopes, Grace; Cotter (Farrugia 75), O’Neill, Towell, Lyons; Byrne (Greene 68), Mandroiu (Emakhu 88), Burke (Gaffney 75)
Referee: Damien MacGraith