Monaghan United FC–Dundalk FC
0 - 0
Monaghan United had to settle for a scoreless stalemate on their Premier Division comeback against Dundalk at a packed Gortakeegan.
Roddy Collins’ side struggled early on but dominated the second half only to spurn a series of chances to claim all three points in an impressive second-half display.
That was in stark contrast to the opening exchanges in which the new-look United side looked disjointed, out of touch and somewhat ring rusty. That could only be expected as the Monaghan side, clad in their striking new all-yellow change kit, featured just five players from last season’s promotion-winning squad in their starting eleven.
Dundalk, themselves with a rebuilt side, took control early on and forced a series of early corners which came to nothing though the United defence was forced to scramble clear after four minutes after a Chris Bennion punch.
Monaghan began to find their feet more in the second quarter, Jordan Keegan advancing to support the previously isolated lone striker Tony Griffiths. Willo McDonagh, meanwhile, was finding more space to pick his passes and United’s first threatening attack saw Griffiths send a fine glancing header across goal and inches away from the far corner after 29 minutes.
That prompted a sustained spell of pressure from the home side but a series of corners were squandered as their penchant for short corners showed more in imagination that execution. But United’s momentum was halted when debutant Gareth O’Connor was forced off through injury and Jason Marks came in.
The capacity crowd were enjoying plenty of intensity and endeavour but little in the way of goalmouth action or real quality. But Dundalk produced a bolt from the blue after 33 minutes when they finely worked a free-kick for Robert Watters to fire in a searing shot that Bennion did brilliantly to tip over the crossbar.
But Bennion was beaten by another Dundalk rocket after 44 minutes when an even more venomous shot from Stephen McDonnell crashed spectacularly off the crossbar.
Monaghan, though, showed signs of their second-half metamorphosis just before the break when a wonderful move down the left flank saw Marks and Keegan exchange passes with the former only denied by a finely-timed last-ditch tackle from McDonnell.
And United really should have been ahead within a minute of the start of the second half when the same combination carved open the Dundalk defence. Keegan crossed for Marks but the substitute rushed his finish and fired over from very close range.
Dundalk repeated the feat themselves minutes later when Michael Rafter got into the right of the box and squared for the unmarked Shane O’Neill but he snatched at the gilt-edged chance and blazed over.
United made the most of that escape for much of the remainder of the half as they took complete control. McDonagh and Bayly, much more prominent now after a shaky start, were both to the fore and their pair were denied by last-ditch tackles in quick succession as they looked to get clear on goal after 59 minutes.
And Bayly came agonisingly close to scoring after 62 minutes when he found space after 25 metres out and he showed the vision and technique to curl an exquisite right-foot shot that came off the base of the post with Peter Cherrie beaten all ends up. The ball broke to Griffiths who sliced over but his blushes were spared when the offside flag was raised.
United were finding lots of space in the midfield at this stage and Conor Murphy was providing more a link between centrefield and attack. After 65 minutes Luke Danville’s back pass caused panic in the Dundalk defence but unfortunately for United it evaded both the goal and the nearby Griffiths – and the visitors were able to hack clear.
Three minutes later, United came close again when Jason Marks tried an ambitious volley from the left of the penalty area but his shot was pulled just wide of the far post. Dundalk roused from their torpor to threaten Monaghan again from distance but Bennion did well to save from Gary Shanahan, with Rafter ruled offside as he followed up to hit the post.
United squandered the best chance of the match with six minutes remaining when the two young subs Murphy and Owen Humphry combined well to out Keegan straight through but he dragged his low left-footed shot wide of the far post.
There was still time for another United chance in injury time as another quick counter saw them break four on two but Griffith inadvisedly elected to shoot, with colleagues better placed, and his effort flew well off-target.
But despite not getting the three points they just about deserved, there were plenty of positives for Roddy Collins and the United fans to take from the game, with a fine second-half performance providing promise for the season. Their defence again looks solid – with their only jitters caused by self-inflicted misguided passes and Dundalk’s distance shooting – while the midfield finally found their passing range late on and showed much more energy and endeavour than their opponents. Griffiths proved a willing toiler up front in a testing role in which he was often outnumbered four to one but the brief cameos of Murphy and Humphry illustrated that Roddy has options with pace and power in attack.
But there is little time to reflect for Roddy and Monaghan with a tantalising trip to Tallaght to face the league champions on Friday 9 March next on the agenda.
MONAGHAN UNITED FC: Chris Bennion, Aidan Collins (Owen Humphrey 79), Conor McMahon, Alan Byrne, Darragh Reynor (Conor Murphy 61), Willo McDonagh, Stephen Maher, Robert Bayly (c), Tony Griffiths, Garreth O’Connor (Jason Marks 21), Jordan Keegan.
Booked: S Maher (25), R Bayly (41), J Keegan (63), C McMahon (75).
Unused Subs: Michael Schlingermann (GK), Roddy Collins, Daniel McGuinness, Michael Isichei.
DUNDALK FC: Peter Cherrie, Derek Foran, Liam Burns, Luke Danville, Dan Cunningham, Shane O’Neill (Gareth Coughlan 68), Stephen McDonnell (c) (Paul Walsh 90), John Mountney, Robert Waters, Gary Shanahan, Michael Rafter.
Booked: J Mountney (49).
Unused Subs: Ger Hanley (GK), Nathan Murphy, Kevin Loughran.
Referee: Rob Rogers (Dublin).