Bray Wanderers 1 (Kelly 29), Dundalk 3 (Kilduff 5,27, Finn 81)
Premier Division, Carlisle Grounds, 05 Mar 2016
The reigning champions didn’t have it all their own way in the Carlisle Grounds, but they took the predicted three points nevertheless.
Dundalk went ahead early, Ciaran Kilduff given an easy finish by a well-placed John Mountney cross after the winger worked well with Ronan Finn, who as gained possession in midfield.
Former Seagull Dane Massey served up another perfectly weighted ball for the Dundalk striker just before the half hour mark, and he struck it under the advancing Bray keeper.
But the home side reduced the deficit following a well-struck Dean Kelly free, which looked like it didn’t need the intervention it got from the head of Andy Boyle to put it beyond the reach of Gary Rogers.
Bray were playing nice ball, sometimes at the cost of lost possession, and the visitors’ defence was solid.
Eight minutes after the break, Kilduff had the ball in the net again, but Ronan Finn had been caught offside moments before feeding him and the flag was up.
The Dundalk attack was uncharacteristically hesitant in front of the Bray goal at times, but after the home side had lost Curtis Murphy to second caution, Finn took full advantage of confusion in the defence and fired to the bottom right of the net with Cherrie on the wrong side.
The visitors’ apparent dominance, particularly in the first half, may have been coloured by the early lead they won when good midfield work by Finn and Mountney, who won possession to begin the move, set up an opportunity for Kilduff to slide the ball past Cherrie.
But if that was the first significant chance of the game, the second didn’t come until midway through the half, when Ryan Brennan had a set-piece opportunity for Bray only to curl the shot into Rogers’ waiting embrace.
Less than a minute later, Daryl Horgan showed enterprise and skill in working his way across the front of the Bray area to fire a shot Cherrie had to get down smartly to smother.
And perhaps it was little surprise that Dundalk doubled their advantage within minutes, former Seagull Dane Massey sending a perfectly weighted through ball past the Bray defence and Alan McNally failing to find the pace to beat Kilduff to it.
But the dust had scarcely settled on that when Kelly delivered a well-judged free kick for a foul on Brennan from about 25m out, and it seemed not to need the assist it got from the head of Andy Boyle to beat Rogers.
Kelly was largely reduced to chasing long balls for the rest of the half, though defender Curtis Murphy made a foray forward and tried a snap shot from a narrow angle that was taken hastily and proved easy for Rogers to collect.
Late in the period, Paddy Barrett tried his luck with a cross that curled threateningly towards the far post, but Cherrie was able to claim, and the other side of the break another attempt by him, this time from a free, met the same fate.
Once more, though, it was Kilduff who netted early in the second half, but Finn had been caught offside before feeding the striker, and the flag was up.
And five minutes later, Dundalk substuitute Darren Meenan, who had replaced Mountney before the break, flashed a shot from a narrow angle just across the face of the Bray goal, andf shortly thereafter, Kilduff worried his way past Bray captain Conor Kenna, but Cherrie was able to block his effort.
It wasn’t a dirty game by any standard, but Referee Padraigh Sutton nevertheless contrived to issue a total of seven cautions, and McNally was lucky to avoid a second for his foul on Kilduff just after the hour.
From the ensuing free, taken by Meenan, the player followed up himself and got a strong shot away that Cherrie had to stretch to tip over.
For all the chances listed, the game then settled into a spell of probing and resisting on both sides.
But it was put beyond doubt in a dramatic couple of minutes ten from the final whistle. Mick Cooke had just sent on Bray’s latest signing, Drew Lewis, when his plans were knocked askew by a second booking for Curtis Murphy. And barely had the Bray defender left the pitch when Finn took advantage of a crowded goalmouth and fired low to the near corner, with Cherrie rooted to the spot at the far post.
Dundalk may have had a fairly easy victory in the end, but like Cork the previous night, they certainly didn’t look the contenders they appeared all last season.
Bray Wanderers: 1 Peter Cherrie; 24 Sean Harding, 4 Conor Kenna (c, yc), 5 Alan McNally (yc), 3 Curtis Murphy; 6 Alan Byrne; 23 Gareth McDonagh, 8 Mark Salmon, 7 Ryan Brennan, 10 Karl Moore; 9 Dean Kelly (yc)
Subs: 2 Hugh Douglas, 16 Dylan Connolly (for McDonagh 63), 17 Gerard Pender, 18 Andrew Lewis (for Kelly 79), 20 Paul Finnegan, 21 Robert Creevy, 50 Aaron Shanahan (gk)
Dundalk: 1 Gary Rogers; 15 Patrick Barrett, 3 Brian Gartland (yc), 4 Andrew Boyle, 14 Dane Massey; 10 Ronan Finn (yc), 6 Stephen O’Donnell (c); 8 John Mountney, 11 Patrick McEleney, 7 Daryl Horgan; 16 Ciaran Kilduff
Subs: 2 Sean Gannon, 5 Chris Shields (for McEleney 74), 9 David McMillan, 12 Shane Grimes, 18 Robert Benson (for O’Donnell 86), 21 Darren Meenan (for Mountney 37), 22 Gabriel Sava (gk)
Referee: Padraigh Sutton
Report Micheal O’hUanachain