Lilies lifted ahead of Split
Athlone win puts Dundalk top ahead of Europa tie
A RATHER happy PA announcer was so pleased with one of Dundalk's goals that he described it to the Oriel Park crowd as "poetry in motion".
And there's no doubt that some of the football being played by Dundalk these days could be deemed a work of art - pleasing to the eye but also effective as Stephen Kenny's men went back to the top of the league table, on goal difference ahead of Cork City, with this comfortable 2-0 win over Athlone Town.
Domestic affairs now tidied up with this victory which extended their unbeaten run in the league to 10 matches, Dundalk now turn their attention back to European football with Thursday's second leg of their Europa League battle with Hajduk Split.
Down 2-0 from the home leg, Dundalk really need to come up with what would be their best-ever result in Europe to get past the Croatian side in Split and advance to the third qualifying round, but the side will certainly travel to that pretty city on the Adriatic with a spring in their step thanks to this win.
Ahead 2-0 at half time the result was never really in question, the only matter up for decision being the final tally of goals which Dundalk were capable of as they outclassed Athlone in every area of the pitch for most of the game, though there was a worrying spell midway through the second half when Dundalk's intensity levels dropped and Athlone looked like a threat, before the home side got a grip again.
The only surprise was that it took Dundalk until the 22nd minute to get the lead goal. The danger signs for bottom side Athlone were there from early on, with Richie Towell and Kurtis Byrne combining well in the seventh minute to cause some panic in the Town defence. On 14 minutes Darren Meenan lashed a powerful shot goalwards, the effort kept out and deflected for a corner by the fingertips of Town keeper Ryan Coulter, expect that referee Derek Tomney was possibly the only man in the crowd who didn't see Coulter get a touch and Tomney insisted on a goal kick, infuriating home fans in the Oriel attendance if 1,597.
But on 22 minutes the home side were in front, Pat Hoban scoring for the second league game in a row to finish off a stunning move started by Meenan. The ball came to Kurtis Byrne and while Coulter did keep out his shot, Hoban was unmarked in the box and could simply tap home the rebound.
Nine minutes later it was 2-0, Brian Gartland the scorer this time as he got his head to Dane Massey's free kick.
Dundalk claimed a third goal four minutes before the break but ref Tomney spotted a foul just before Gartland headed home and the effort was disallowed, though Dundalk stayed hungry and tried again a minute later, Byrne shooting just wide after some fine work by Sean Gannon.
The second half began as the first had ended, Dundalk in control and hunting for more goals. On 50 minutes Byrne set up a chance for Daryl Horgan but Neil Harney managed to snuff out the danger, and five minutes later Towell saw his goal-bound shot blocked by Sean Brennan.
Almost from nowhere, Athlone managed to revive themselves and for a sustained period caused some serious panic for the home defence. The warning shot was fired on the hour mark when John Mulroy's shot went narrowly wide, a minute later James O'Brien's clever lob got the better of Peter Cherrie but went just over the bar and on 62 minutes Mulroy threatened again.
It's that goal difference which is the difference between Dundalk and Cork City, and while Dundalk have a league game against a struggling Bray Wanderers next on their domestic agenda - Bray have lost their last five in a row - minds will wander towards an August 1st meeting with Cork City.
Of course Dundalk also have that European campaign to consider, the squad due to head to the Balkans for Thursday's tie in Split where only a near-miracle could see Dundalk overcome Igor Tudor's side at the Poljud Stadium in Croatia.