Dundalk captain Chris Shields insists his side “only have ourselves to blame” for their worst start to a season since his first at the club back in 2012.
However, the midfielder has challenged his side to bounce back in style when they travel to face reigning league champions Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night.
A 2-1 defeat to Finn Harps on the back of the opening day draw away to Sligo Rovers has piled early pressure on the Lilywhites ahead of a daunting run of fixtures which will see them face Rovers, Bohemians and St Patrick’s Athletic in their next three matches.
While it might be early in the season, Shields is well aware that the spotlight on Dundalk will grow further if they fail to win in Tallaght this weekend but despite a disappointing defeat to Harps on Friday – Dundalk’s first against the Donegal side since November 2007 – the 30-year-old feels another battle with Rovers could be the perfect game to help his side bounce back.
It’s a big game no matter when it comes in the season but it is just coming so early,” he said.
“I’m sure it will be the perfect game to bounce back because you can’t afford to put in another performance like that.
“We have no choice but to move on. There’s no point in wallowing in self pity going into a big game like that next Friday. We just have to get on with it on the training ground this week,” he said.
Asked would it take time for some of the new players in the squad to gel, Shields said: “Hopefully not because we don’t really have time on our side.
“You see the lads tonight and that’s their competitive debut and they’ve had an impact. Ryan (O’Kane) is only 17 and Chino (Jesus Perez) has only come over from America. He’s in a total different setup than he is used to but he has made an instant impact and hopefully more lads can be like them and kick on.
“It’s hard, we were missing Sonni. Although we’ll be missing Sonni again now for the ridiculous red card. It’s classic FAI, really looking after the suspension’s list. We were also missing Raivis. The lads are on international duty but we have a squad there and we should have been winning that game.”
Shields said he felt Foley’s second goal, which he thought was offside initially but was actually on, hurt Dundalk at a time when he thought his side were getting on top in the game.
“It kind of just took the wind out of our sails conceding the second goal because I thought we were well on top and we were starting to turn the screw really well.
“I think Ryan O’Kane was having a good effect when he came on, the same with Chino (Jesus Perez) when he came on for his debut and then their goal is just like a sucker punch.
“If you lose any game in this league especially Finn Harps at home then you’re going to be disappointed.
“Finn Harps are Finn Harps and they’re really good at what they do. Ollie and Hegsy probably don’t get enough praise for what they do within the budget that they have. They set up well and the way we expected them to set up and we’ve given them a goal coming up to half-time and it was a bad time to give a goal like that away,” said Shields.
Shane Keegan defended goalkeeper Alessio Abibi after his howler paved the way for Finn Harps to record a first win over Dundalk in almost 14 years at Oriel Park last night.
The Albanian was caught in possession by Adam Foley three minutes before half-time as the striker charged down his attempted clearance with the ball deflecting to the net.
Despite Patrick Hoban pulling a goal back for the home side three minutes after the restart, Foley beat the Dundalk offside trap to get the better of Abibi again in the 63rd minute to ensure Ollie Horgan’s side made it two wins from two at the start of the new SSE Airtricity League Premier Division season.
It was the Donegal side’s first win over the Lilywhites in any competition since a 2-0 play-off victory in November 2007 and the first time they had won at Oriel Park in almost 15 years since a 3-1 victory in May 2006.
While most of the spotlight fell on Abibi after his error, team manager Keegan refused to point the finger at the 24-year-old saying the overall performance “wasn’t good enough” on the night.
“The goal is the goal but I’ve no real quarrel with the goal,” he said.
“We got a point out of Sligo last week because of Alessio and we won the President’s Cup the week before because of Alessio.
“Something like that will happen to a keeper. Now it shouldn’t happen to him more than once or twice in a season but when it does happen you’re relying on the rest of your team to get you out of jail and show enough quality to go and win the game anyway when something like that happens to you but unfortunately we haven’t done that,” said the Laois man.
Keegan said he didn’t think the error would impact Abibi’s confidence going forward.
“I doubt it. I like him. He’s a larger than life personality and, not that it will be water off a duck’s back to him, but he is big and bold enough to be able to deal with something like that.
“I don’t think it will hit his confidence and I think he will bounce back next week. He has made one outstanding save in the second half so I think he’ll be fine.”
Keegan said it was disappointing how little his side created and admitted the lack of matches in pre-season might have had an impact on the performance.
“It’s the conclusion you’d jump to after a result like that,” he said.
“The lack of bodies was a big problem for us as well. We think we’ve recruited really well and yet we were without four or five of those bodies that we’ve brought in. That said, we’ve put out a team onto the pitch that is good enough to go and win the game as well so it’s very little excuse for us to be able to lean on.
“Half an hour into the game Ollie is roaring at his lads to try and get into the game. We have dominated but we’ve dominated in terms of possession but let’s be honest, we haven’t created a huge amount for all the possession that we’ve had.”
The former Galway Utd boss said it was now important that Dundalk bounced back against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght on Friday night.
“We have zero time to feel sorry for ourselves,” he said.
“It’s Rovers, followed by Bohs, followed by Pat’s. If we’re going to wallow in self-pity then the season will be over before we get our act together so we’ve zero time to feel sorry for ourselves.
“We’ve got to put in an incredible week of hard work next week and we need to engage the brains as a collective and figure out what wasn’t good enough and how we’re going to fix it and just get to work on it,” said Keegan.
Greg Sloggett feels Dundalk will gel in time to ensure they claim their first victory of the season at home to Finn Harps this Friday night (kick-off 5.45pm, live on WATCHLOI).
By their own admission, there were a few teething problems for the Lilywhites as they opened their campaign with a 1-1 draw away to Sligo Rovers at the weekend.
By contrast a Finn Harps side with just two debutants in the starting 11 – one of whom was the returning Ethan Boyle – claimed arguably the result of the weekend in beating Bohemians 1-0 at Finn Park.
Sloggett admitted there was a bedding in process required for sides across the league to get used to new recruits but he doesn’t feel Harps being the most settled of anyone will help Ollie Horgan’s men when they arrive at Oriel Park on Friday.
“I think year on year you want to have settled squads but if you need to change over players then so be it.
“It’s renowned in this league that players come and go and chop and change and there’s plenty of that and plenty of years where it hasn’t affected teams and they’ve gone and kicked on.
“I think everyone has gelled in quite well here. Were there some teething problems? Yes and no. They came out and pressed us aggressively and pressed us high up the pitch and any game like that where they are pressing high and we’re pressing high it is going to end up in a kind of a frantic feel to it and it had the opening night nerves to it as well.
“Yes, of course we have plenty of new players in there as well so there’s a bedding in process as well but it’s apparent in a lot of the first games I think.
“We were short a game in pre-season as well that we missed out on up in Derry so there is going to be a bit of that in the first couple of games.
“It was a frantic game tonight as we’ve mentioned but I don’t think there will be any issues bedding in players.
“Harps had a good win tonight but we’ll have to go and beat them now next week, it’s as simple as that,” he said.
The midfielder admitted to being disappointed at not having won at The Showgrounds.
“Every game we go into we want to win so in that regard it’s disappointing to only be coming away with one point.
“I think that’s definitely a game we felt we could have won. We kicked on and got the first goal which is positive. We came with a plan to press hard and aggressively and it has paid off.
“We’ve worked on defending set pieces but we didn’t set up quick enough. That is disappointing and something we’ll have to look back on but I think looking back on it they had a couple of chances in the second half and it could have gone either way so a point in some ways was a fair result.
“You know you’re going to get tough games in this league, particularly on the opening night. I remember last year we played Derry on the opening night and it was a tight game but then Dane Massey popped up and came away with a goal from a corner and that’s sometimes that’s all the difference is. We’re disappointed not to come away with three points but in the end a draw is possibly a fair result,” he said.
Landmark night for McEleney Friday night was a landmark night for Patrick McEleney who marked his 100th start for Dundalk with his first goals since scoring the winner in last November’s FAI Cup final against Cork City. His opener was a landmark on three fronts as it was his 20th goal for the club, his 30th League of Ireland Premier Division goal and his 60th career goal. His second a minute from the end was also the 45th league goal he has scored in his career.
First start at home Having played away against Bohemians, Derry City and St Patrick’s Athletic, Georgie Kelly started his first league game for Dundalk on Friday night at Oriel Park – 1 year, 1 month and 2 weeks (410 days) exactly on from when he joined the club. He marked it with his first league goal at Oriel Park in what was also his 10th goal for Dundalk. It was his sixth career goal against Finn Harps. Friday night was also a first league start at Oriel Park for Cameron Dummigan.
Kelly’s Harps record Daniel Kelly scored his sixth goal of the season with the opener against Finn Harps on Friday night but it was his fourth against the Donegal side. He now has as many goals for Dundalk as he managed for old club Bohemians. Friday night was the 70th senior appearance of his career with his 14th goal leaving him with an average of one in five.
Big week for McGrath Having played his 100th game for Dundalk on Tuesday night against Slovan Bratislava, Jamie McGrath came off the bench to score his 10th league goal for the club against Finn Harps on Friday night. It was also his 10th career goal at Oriel Park.
First assist for Massey Dane Massey’s assist for Michael Duffy’s goal against Slovan Bratislava on Tuesday was his first of the season. Having been an unused sub against Cobh Ramblers the previous Saturday, Massey has now played more European matches (29) than FAI Cup matches (28) in his career. He and Sean Gannon have played more European matches than any other player for Dundalk in the club’s history.
Garts’ record Of the 19 clean sheets Dundalk have kept in all competitions so far this season, club captain Brian Gartland has now been involved in 15 of them. Dundalk have conceded just six goals in matches involving the 32-year-old.
Ref record Dundalk have now lost both games refereed by Austrian Robert Schorgenhofer, who took charge of Tuesday night’s 3-1 defeat against Slovan Bratislava. He was also in charge when Dundalk lost 2-1 away to Maccabi Tel Aviv in December 2016, giving the Israelis a penalty that night.