Saints edging closer to title
Flood, Russell and Fagan put Pat's six clear
THE CHAMPAGNE football appears to be off the menu – but there are few complaints from the St Patrick's Athletic camp as that yearned-for league title, the first in 14 years, moves closer and closer.
Pat's came away from last night's trip to Co Wicklow with a less-than-convincing and nervy 3-1 win over Bray Wanderers, with goals from Anto Flood, John Russell and Chris Fagan.
However, the upshot of the evening was that the Saints moved six points clear at the top of the table with four games to play, although the chasing pack of Dundalk and Sligo Rovers still have a game in hand.
It was far from vintage stuff from Pat's, who had enjoyed a 2-0 lead but then endured some nervy moments when an 83rd minute goal from Bray striker Ismahil Akinade made it 2-1.
Pat's then needed a superb save from keeper Brendan Clarke to deny Bray a second goal before Fagan made sure of the points with an injury-time goal.
Pat's have played some sublime football this season and Liam Buckley has assembled a side of footballers who have good technique and play the game the right way. But going to Bray with five games to go was just about the points.
"Last night out in Bray was like a lot of our games out there, we didn't play all that well but got the three points and that's all we care about. It's all about winning at this stage of the season," Pat's captain Conor Kenna said.
"We would like to do it the fancy way and play lots of nice football but if you want to win a league sometimes you have to dig in and grind out a result the way we did last night.
"We all had to work hard and in fairness to Bray they took us on, we needed a brilliant save from Clarkey late on to keep us in it.
"Once Bray scored their goal the game switched in their advantage, they are a good side with players who are proud and they are fighting for their lives, we knew that no way were Bray going to lie down before us and let us win, they threw everything at us late on to try and get a draw and we were just hanging in there before Christy nicked that late goal for us," Kenna added.
When Russell put Pat's 2-0 in front with his first goal in over four months, Pat's seemed to be home and dry on a misty night in Bray.
A dull first half was brightened only by a 39th minute goal from Flood, the striker relieved to end his own two-month goal famine as he beat Darren Quigley from close range after Bray had failed to clear Killian Brennan's corner.
Bray had rarely threatened Clarke's goal when Galway native Russell made it 2-0 for the league leaders on 66 minutes. Russell headed home from a cross by the under-rated left back Ian Bermingham, a move set up by Flood's nifty back-heel.
But Pat Devlin's side, battling to move out of the relegation zone, seemed to grow in confidence as the game neared its conclusion and that 83rd minute strike from Akinade, after good work by sub Kevin Knight, was a warning sign. Then another sub, John Mulroy, almost got Bray level in the final minute, only to be denied by Clarke.
Pat's broke away from that incident and Fagan pounced to fire a shot past Quigley and make it 3-1.
Pat's can relax this evening and watch how their challengers Dundalk and Sligo get on in their games, as the title is still in their own hands from a Saints viewpoint.
"If we win our games we'll win the league," added Kenna.
"There is no guarantee we will do that, we made hard work of the three points last night but we move on.
"Last week against Dundalk was vital, we needed to win that to put a gap between us and Dundalk and we did that, teams can still catch us but only if we drop points.
"No game is easy, as Bray showed us last night, you have teams who are fighting for survival and teams going for Europe so we head to UCD on Monday, and if we can win there then we'll see where things lie," Kenna concluded.