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It looks like Dundalk will retain their Premier Division title.

Vinny Perth’s team opened up an eight-point lead over Shamrock Rovers after a 1-0 win at Tallaght Stadium.

Rovers were the better side on the night. They played the better football, created more chances, had more shots, won their individual battles and won the midfield battle. Yet, Dundalk left with a victory.

They did what all great teams do and claimed all three points despite having an off-game. They did what all great champions do, and it looks as though they will be champions again this season.

Rovers went into the game needing victory to regain ground in the title race. Dundalk were five points clear of their rivals and knew a win would give them a lead that could prove insurmountable for the Hoops. This appeared to focus Rovers, who took the game to the champions from the first whistle. Stephen Bradley’s side pressed their opponents, snapped into challenges and aimed to get Rovers turning to face their own goal as they sprung early passes up to Dan Carr.

The first half belonged to the Hoops. Trevor Clarke was impressive on the overlap, Dylan Watts and Greg Bolger won the midfield battle as Rovers caused their opponents problems with their movement and positional rotation.

Jack Byrne was particularly excellent in the first half. The Dubliner was at the centre of his side’s positive play, collecting the ball in pockets of space in Dundalk’s half and bringing his teammates into the play with clever passes.

The only blot on his display was a silly booking for a dive, but otherwise, Byrne did little wrong in the half. His shot from 25-yards beat Gary Rogers in the Dundalk but smashed against the crossbar.

If the two sides could have switched strikers, and Rovers had Pat Hoban upfront rather than Daniel Carr, then the half probably would not have ended scoreless. The home side were lacking a seasoned goalscorer.

Carr was a willing runner, looking to stretch the play with his runs beyond the Dundalk defence, and he almost set up Ronan Finn at the back-post, but he lacked the finishing touch and link-up play required to help his side get the goal their efforts deserved.

Dundalk went into the game on the back of some formidable form with 11 wins from 12 games. However, they looked like a side lacking fluency after the mid-season break. They lost the midfield battle and were pinned back as Rovers upped the pressure before half-time. Beyond a spell early in the second half, Dundalk offered little in attack despite having so many talented players. Yet, they still found a way to win. Perth’s team showed the hallmark of all great champions – they recorded a victory despite not playing well.

The winning goal came from an unlikely source. With 17 minutes to go and the match drifting towards a goalless draw, the ball landed with Patrick McEleney outside the Rovers’ penalty area. The midfielder played a cushioned header into the path of Jamie McGrath, who controlled the pass and delayed his ball into Sean Gannon on the overlap. The Dundalk defender took a touch to control the pass before slotting the ball through Alan Mannus’ legs.

Rovers pushed for an equaliser and created some threatening openings – Brandon Kavanagh was impressive off the bench – but couldn’t find the finishing touch.

At one point this season, Rovers were 13 points clear of Dundalk – who had two games in hand at the time. A few months later, Dundalk have effectively ended the title challenge of their closest rivals, who are now eight points behind.

Rovers couldn’t beat Dundalk at their best. Dundalk recorded a victory over Rovers despite being no-where near their best. They will undoubtedly retain the league title this season.

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