Dundalk seal win in style
Champs claim title over Rovers with four games left
The work was done before last night, but this was the perfect way for Dundalk to secure a fifth league title in the space of six seasons.
This victory over their nearest pursuers, a Shamrock Rovers side that fielded pretty much all of their big guns, was a timely show of strength. Vinny Perth now looks set to win his first title in charge by a double figure points total.
Dundalk are 15 clear with four matches to go, quite a turnaround seeing as Rovers were 13 ahead in early April, albeit with two games more played. They were reminded of that by the home fans.
Visiting boss Stephen Bradley did shun the temptation to rest players with Friday's season defining cup tie with Bohemians in mind.
But the Dubliners fell short in a loose and entertaining affair that had a completely different personality to previous meetings this term; the atmosphere even reflected the fact that the stakes weren't really that high.
Maybe it would have been tighter if the league was still alive, but Rovers' defensive application was sloppy and complacency crept into the Dundalk ranks after they took a two-goal lead into the interval.
The details quickly faded into memory after full-time, with Michael Duffy's decisive right footer the takeaway moment.
Dundalk suffered some discomfort in the dying stages, yet they held out to successfully negotiate the final quarter.
Their only league defeats this term came on back to back weeks against St Patrick's Athletic and Sligo Rovers as the Hoops opened up that deceiving gap. Rather than imploding, Dundalk regrouped and their experience took hold.
They are unbeaten in domestic action since then, a record of 26 wins and 3 draws in all competitions which has fuelled treble ambitions. t's been a relentless march to glory.
Stephen Kenny was present for this game, reportedly in 'fine health' and given a warm round of applause beforehand after his recent scare in Sweden, but Perth has proven that he can maintain the good times.
The first half was a microcosm of the season, with Rovers starting well before Dundalk gradually wrestled control of proceedings.
Bradley's side produced some decent passages of play, but the home side looked reasonably comfortable under pressure save for one swipe from Daniel Cleary, and began to turn the screw by putting more pressure on the guests in their own half.
The serial title winners were to the fore with Chris Shields the most forceful midfielder on the park, full backs Sean Gannon and Dane Massey prominent, and Robbie Benson making up for lost time in an injury ravaged season with an influential showing.
Rovers showed their technical quality in passages, without being anywhere near as clinical or efficient in their attacking play.
Sean Hoare broke the deadlock, capitalising on slack marking to power home Duffy's corner with a bullet header. A flowing team move produced a second just before the interval, with Patrick McEleney's left footed cross deliciously converted by the head of Benson.
Rovers made a game of it though, with a fine through ball from Sean Kavanagh giving Aaron Greene the opportunity to halve the deficit. It was Dundalk's first league concession in 81 days.
They responded in thrilling fashion, with another passage of clever build-up play fashioning the opportunity for Duffy to find the top corner from 25 yards with a thunderbolt.
Rovers didn't roll over, and capitalised on Dundalk sloppiness to pull one back with Aaron McEneff on target from the edge of the area.
They kept the ball better in a frantic conclusion, with Jack Byrne dropping deeper, and Greene was inches away from dampening the local enthusiasm.
But a Dundalk team that have taken 10 points from 12 in their four clashes this term have made winning a habit.