League of Ireland 21/4/1988
DUNDALK 1 ST PATS 1
The final day of the 1987/88 season had thrown up that most rare of occurrences – a showdown between the top two teams with the League Championship at stake.
It would be a huge understatement to say that few had envisaged this game being a title decider when the fixtures were published at the start of the season.
True, Dundalk were no strangers to title races. They had finished runners-up the preceding season and were seeking a seventh league Championship in their history.
However, the prevailing wisdom among pundits in their preseason predictions was that St Patrick's Athletic would be either relegated or still battling against the drop by this stage of the season.
Manager Brian Kerr had lost almost his entire playing staff at the end of the previous season and with no budget worth speaking of, had cobbled together a squad comprising mainly of young and inexperienced players.
A long hard struggle for survival was expected. A tally of four points from their first five games seemed to confirm those suspicions but Pats rallied to become the season's shock troops and mount the club's first genuine title challenge for some 27 years.
Dundalk had scored an important psychological advantage by winning a two-legged FAI Cup semi-final between the two sides immediately prior to this Thursday night decider.
They held a one point lead over Pats coming into this last game of the season so knew a draw would see them take the title and keep their dreams of a League and FAI Cup double alive.
It was the Saints however that got off to a dream start when Gino Lawless handled a Curtis Fleming cross in the penalty area five minutes in and Pat Fenlon slotted the resulting penalty past Alan O'Neill.
The hosts rallied and went in search of an equalizer. This arrived promptly when an unmarked Dessie Gorman headed Martin Lawlor's cross from a free kick into the roof of Dave Henderson's net midway through the half.
Moments later the home side had a chance to all but wrap up the title when Gorman put Terry Eviston through on goal but Henderson, a Fireman by profession, appropriately came to the rescue with a fine save.
They were almost made to pay dearly for missing that chance two minutes later when a careless backpass from Lawless put Paddy Dillon through on goal – his shot beat O'Neill in goal but former Saint Joey Malone scrambled back to clear the ball off the line.
After the interval the vastly experienced O'Neill made a couple of superb saves to thwart the desperate efforts of the Inchicore side to get the goal that would give them the title.
Their challenge suffered a fatal blow 15 minutes from time when a frustrated Paddy Dillon was shown a second yellow card and was sent off – a most unfitting and undeserved ending to his fondly remembered two years at Richmond Park as he emigrated to Australia that summer.
Despite their best efforts Pats simply couldn't find a winning goal and had to settle for a second placed finish.
The point did however secure qualification for European football for the first time since 1967 where they would be drawn against Edinburgh's Heart Of Midlothian.
Furthermore, the experience gained in this campaign would be cited by players and management as vital when they went one better in the title race two years later.
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