Dundalk beat Bohs to seal European qualification

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Dundalk survived a nervy finish at Casey’s Field to hold on for a result that secured his return to European football next season.

First-half goals from David McMillan and Runar Hauge put Stephen O’Donnell’s side in control, but an Ethon Varian header a minute from time briefly threatened to ruin the party.

In the end, the home side held on for a result that will see them qualify for the Europa Conference League qualifiers next summer.

Having been in Europe for eight consecutive seasons before this one, O’Donnell achieved his goal in his first year in charge at Oriel Park.

While Dundalk can still potentially finish second, that result – coupled with Sligo Rovers’ victory over St Patrick’s Athletic at Tthe Showgrounds – means the Inchicore side cannot catch them for third place.

For Bohs, Declan Devine will be happy with big aspects of his side’s play, having dictated most proceedings, but his expectation of a first win since taking over from Keith Long will extend into a third home game against Sligo Rovers Sunday week.

It was the visitors who started first with Liam Burt forcing a good save from Nathan Shepperd inside the opener four minutes before Andy Boyle was called into a buyout block to deny Kris Twardek six minutes later after spitting possession too easily for James McManus, who then pulled the Canadian winger away.

Burt then headed for the side netting after a Jordan Flores corner kick was kept alive by Rory Feely in the 13th minute before Dundalk struck the forward against the run of play in the 21st minute.

Bohs had reason to feel aggrieved after Jordan Doherty was penalized for what looked like a stumble by Ryan O’Kane, but the hosts punished them as McMillan came forward to curl a superb free-kick past the keeper. 17-year-old rookie Reece Byrne’s goal in the top left hand corner.

The Gypsies then came close to a response seven minutes later when Feely’s header from Flores’ corner had to be turned around the post by Shepperd.

Dundalk then doubled their advantage in the 39th minute with a superb goal at the break. He was initiated by Alfie Lewis, who regained possession of the ball before finding McMillan. He then released Hauge, who did well to avoid Max Murphy before going under Byrne.

The Norwegian, on loan from Hibernian, came close to his second seven minutes after the break after a breakaway down the right but this time his effort was hit by Byrne.

Shepperd, who won the Dundalk Players’ Player of the Year award before kick-off, then had to do his best to hold on to his side’s 2-0 lead in the 59th minute when he made a super save from close range to deny Ciaran Kelly after Feely had kept another corner of Flores alive.

The visitors dominated possession after that, but a David McDaid shot that curled wide wide in the 75th minute was about as close as they came to pull a goal back.

Flores also had a free-kick hit by Shepperd five minutes from time, with Feely gently heading in from the resulting corner.

They would eventually break the resolve of Louth’s side as Varian headed out of the Flores corner – Bohs’ 11 of the night – with one minute remaining.

Doherty then nearly broke Dundalk’s heart when he fired a horribly wide shot, but the Lilywhites held on to secure their return to European football next season.

Dundalk: Nathan Shepherd; John Mountney, Lewis Macari, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Alfie Lewis, Sam Bone; Runar Hauge (Joe Adams 64), Steven Bradley, Ryan O’Kane (Keith Ward 77); David McMillan (John Martin 76).

gypsies: Reece Byrne; Jordan Doherty, Rory Feely, Ciaran Kelly, Max Murphy (Jamie Mullins 79); James McManus, Jordan Flores; Kris Twardek (Declan McDaid 48), James Clarke, Liam Burt; Ethon Varian.

Arbitrator: Adriano Reale (Kildare).

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