A superb St Patrick’s Athletic performance saw them move three points clear at the top of the table after besting Dundalk in one of the most anticipated games of the season.
Second half strikes from Chris Forrester and Daryl Kavanagh secured a well-deserved victory for a Saints side who were indeed super on the night, rising to the occasion and putting themselves in pole position for their eighth league championship.
The top two were going head to head for the third time this season with the Lilywhites holding the upper hand, having won 2-1 on both occasions earlier in the season.
Both named strong sides as Killian Brennan overcame his injury problems although Shane McFaul missed out through injury as did Greg Bolger who was suspended while Dane Massey and captain Stephen O’Donnell returned for the Louth men.
Both sets of supporters were in outstanding voice, befitting the clash, displaying some Italian-esque exuberance beforehand with their flare shows and Dundalk’s Kurtis Byrne flashed a volley wide of the target with the first effort in earnest after four minutes.
Massey then tested Brendan Clarke but the goalkeeper was never really troubled by the tame effort and Brennan had a very similar effort shortly afterwards at the other end before Peter Cherrie gratefully clutched a soft free kick in his arms from that same threat after 20 minutes.
Dundalk striker Pat Hoban flashed a header wide from a John Dillon free kick that he will have been disappointed with, especially as the home side settled better and were doing more of the pressing for much of the early exchanges.
Kavanagh blasted one wide when in space outside the box with 10 minutes of the first half remaining before Clarke had to get down smartly to stop a Richie Towell snap shot from a Dundalk counter towards the end of a tense first half.
Both sides traded possession at the start of the second as they looked to gain a foothold with Towell angling a strike wide of the mark after a fine jinking run before St Pat’s struck when a quick Brennan free found Ger O’Brien in space on the right and his brilliant cross was headed low past Cherrie by Forrester.
After 58 minutes the lead was doubled when Conan Byrne was given too much space in the final third of the pitch and he sprayed a superb pass in behind the defence and Kavanagh made no mistake with the finish, lashing a drive into the far corner of the net.
Dundalk almost gave themselves a lifeline with 20 minutes remaining as Saints continued to boss possession when Clarke failed to deal with a ball in behind and Hoban poked the ball away from him but it ended up inches wide of the post.
It was the hosts who continued to impress the more though as Dundalk could not get any sort of a foothold in the contest, missing key absentees Chris Shields and Darren Meenan but Liam Buckley’s men showed no signs of being affected by their own missing personnel and were often the better side with Cherrie doing well to keep a Kavanagh scorcher at bay.
Things went from bad to worse for Dundalk with 12 minutes to go as captain O’Donnell, only returning from a ban, was shown a straight red card for an off the ball push on Ger O’Brien.
The home side saw the game out in relative comfort after that, making use of their extra man on a disappointing off night for Dundalk but one in which Pat’s were clinical and rose to the challenge to make themselves favourites for the title.
St Pat’s: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Conor Kenna (c), Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; John Russell, Killian Brennan, Chris Forrester; Conon Byrne (Sean Gannon 67), Anthony Flood, Daryl Kavanagh (Jake Kelly 79).
Subs not used: Rene Gilmartin (GK), Aidan Price, Lorcan Fitzgerald, Philip Hughes, Christy Fagan.
Booked: Russell (54), Kavanagh (58), Brennan (71), Forrester (85)
Dundalk: Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; John Dillon (John Sullivan 65), John Mountney (Vinny Faherty 61), Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell (c), Kurtis Byrne (Tiarnan Mulvenna 79); Pat Hoban.
Subs not used: Conor Winn (GK), John Sullivan, Simon Kelly, Stephen McDonnell, Francis McCaffrey.
Booked: Massey (17), Towell (78), Mulvenna (85).
Sent Off: O’Donnell (78).
Referee: Tomas Connolly
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Daryl Kavanagh (St Pat’s).