The Johnny Logan classic ‘Hold Me Now’ is regularly pumped out before games at Dalymount Park but for Dundalk ‘What’s Another Year’ might have been a little more appropriate on Friday.
A second defeat of the campaign, coming on the back of a disappointing draw at home to St Patrick’s Athletic a week earlier, means Vinny Perth’s side now lie eight points behind Shamrock Rovers in third place with just 11 games remaining.
While slow starts are nothing new for Dundalk, a shortened season where the champions were already playing catch up on the restart means that slip ups are more serious than perhaps ever before.
From this point, it’s difficult to see any situation where Dundalk are holding the SSE Airtricity League title aloft come the end of October.
That might seem very pessimistic to say but then there’s more to this than just a simple blip.
Dundalk have had worse runs of form than one point from six before but form can change in an instant but turning an environment around is more difficult.
Four years ago this month at arguably the height of the club’s recent success after the Lilywhites had beaten BATE Borisov in Tallaght, Paddy Barrett spoke of the family feeling in the dressing room – describing it as a Band of Brothers.
Fast forward to now and that bond is disintegrating to the point where many at the club – on and off the field – are unhappy.
Whether they’re entitled to be or not is a separate argument but the issue has now crept into performances to the point that some of the club’s finest stars now look completely bereft of confidence.
Dundalk had actually started Friday’s game well with most of the early play in the Bohs half but then came the sucker punch on seven minutes.
Kris Twardek, who gave Sean Gannon arguably his toughest examination on these shores since his debut against Drogheda Utd back in March 2014, laid the ball back to Anto Breslin whose looping cross was latched onto all too easily by Danny Grant who ghosted free of Dane Massey to head past a helpless Gary Rogers. Sitting in the makeshift media area in Dalymount Park directly in line with the six yard box, Grant had looked offside to me.
The replay from the one camera on the opposite side of the ground later proved inconclusive as to whether he was or not but the lack of questions about it from the visitors showed where their heads were at that point – down.
For a period after that, it looked as though Keith Long’s side would fashion at least a chance with every attack and they took full advantage of this purple patch by doubling their lead on 15 minutes. Twardek’s cross from the left was cushioned down by Keith Ward into the path of Keith Buckley whose effort deflected past Rogers to make it 2-0.
It’s easy to criticise the back four, and they were poor, but the protection given to them was virtually non-existant. Ward was given far too much room to dictate the play while Buckley, a holding midfielder with just 12 goals in 237 league appearances prior to Friday, could well have had a hat-trick on the night as his runs from deep went frequently untracked. He pulled another effort wide on 19 minutes before Rogers was called into action to keep his side in it with a point blank save from his midfield colleague JJ Lunney on 32 minutes.
In between, with the possible exception of Rogers, there was little or no talking taking place on the field and – to a man – Bohs were better.
Poor form is forgiveable, poor effort is not. It would be unfair to say the players threw the towel in – they didn’t – but in the second half when Gannon went down looking for a free kick that never was as he entered a foot race with Twardek he took the easy option by going to ground rather than playing the whistle. He was fortunate in the end that the Canadian’s cross was cut out by Boyle.
At times the side played like strangers as well. A good tackle by Boyle just after the hour mark would normally be the type of challenge to get the crowd going but on this occasion it was followed up by a mix-up between him and Chris Shields where neither took responsibility for a loose ball with Dundalk once again fortunate not to be punished when Ward slipped Twardek through only for Rogers to come to the rescue once again.
The 38-year-old’s display was one of the few positives to take from the game but it sums up how this season has gone – even pre-Covid – that he has now shipped seven goals in as many matches compared to 17 in the whole of a full campaign last season.
And that’s part of the issue. With the possible exception of Andy Boyle – who has benefitted from a pre-season under his belt – and Pat Hoban – who is the league’s top scorer having put to bed the contract issues which dogged him last year – every other player has regressed.
The midfield look incapable of creating anything and on Friday didn’t even get stuck in while Michael Duffy has failed to test two young and relatively inexperienced full backs in his last two outings. David Titov had only arrived into the country from Latvia before the Pat’s game while for Bohs Andy Lyons is only a handful of games into filling Derek Pender’s boots. They were never got at it in the way that Dundalk’s full backs have been targeted for the past two weeks.
The only other positive from Friday aside from Rogers was Stefan Colovic. While he looked a little lost early on in the number 10 position, he looked the most likely to cause Bohs problems after being shifted out right just after the half hour mark. So it proved when he twisted and turned Breslin to cross for Duffy to head in three minutes before the break to leave it 2-1 at half-time.
It was a lifeline that Dundalk never really looked like capitalising on though.
It look another fantastic stop by Rogers to tip Andre Wright’s dipping header from another Twardek cross over the bar in stoppage time at the end of the half while the Gypsies looked a constant threat on the counter with Grant spurning a great chance to kill the game off on 54 minutes when Ward’s ball played him in behind Massey on the right only for him to pull his effort to the left and wide.
Dundalk’s best chance of salvaging something from the game came 38 seconds after the restart when Duffy’s cross picked out Hoban, who despite nearly having the shirt pulled from his back by Dan Casey, headed against the crossbar. The follow up was met by substitute John Mountney with a diving header but Stephen McGuinness got down to make the save.
There were later chances too as the side at least showed some fight, with Daniel Cleary squirming a shot agonisingly across the face of goal on 77 minutes after a Duffy free had dropped between him and Boyle at the back post while five minutes later Mountney looked to be in again only to blaze over.
In truth, a draw or more would have flattered Dundalk as Bohs always looked the more likely to add to their tally. Aside from the aforementioned chances saved by Rogers, substitute Dawson Devoy also curled an effort just wide, Boyle did well to block from Wright and Buckley went close again in stoppage time.
As much as the players must take a long hard look in the mirror, so too must the coaching staff. There are four Pro Licence holders at the club but for the second week running they were out thought by their opponents and there looked to be no plan B.
Admittedly, injuries to the likes of Sean Hoare, David McMillan, Darragh Leahy, Sean Murray and Patrick McEleney have limited their options but some of the decision making has still been puzzling.
It was against Bohs last year that Dundalk turned their season around thanks to a last gasp penalty. A year on it may be reflected upon that it was against them that their hopes of retaining the title ended.
Even if that is true, there’s still a lot to play for this season – the FAI Cup on Tuesday and Europe next week – but this is more than just a dip in form. Something isn’t right and turning it around will be difficult.
The league might have restarted but Dundalk haven’t as yet.