Slattery the hero as Kildare move closer to promotion
Kildare 2-9 Down 0-10
Cian O'Neill hailed the "phenomenal" contribution of substitute David Slattery, as Kildare took a giant step towards a second successive promotion on Saturday evening.
The Lilywhites survived a war of attrition with Down at Páirc Esler to leave themselves within touching distance of top-flight football.
Slattery came off the bench at half-time and netted in the 37th and 50th minute to put Kildare three points clear at the top, before nearest challengers Clare and Galway played yesterday.
Down had the chance to draw level with Kildare at the head of affairs, but the hosts finished with 13 men on a greasy evening.
With all six subs used, defender Darren O'Hagan went off injured and Jerome Johnston, who had replaced black-carded Alan Davidson, suffered a similar fate.
Kildare led by 0-4 to 0-3 at half-time before Slattery's two goals made the difference.
Midfielder Kevin Feely also maintained his recent run of good form, but Kildare suffered fresh injury worries as captain Eoin Doyle went off late on, while Slattery was also replaced.
O'Neill, however, is happy with an increasing depth in his squad and played down his decision to introduce game-changer Slattery.
"The squad is there for a reason, it's nothing to do with the manager or selectors," said O'Neill.
"We always say to the subs, make an impact, make a difference. His difference was phenomenal."
Down boss Eamonn Burns admitted: "They finished the game stronger. I thought, on the night, they deserved their win. Physically, they're very strong and ran the ball quite well.
"We knew that was coming. They got the scores at the crucial times and won the game."
Down did start brightly and Barry O'Hagan was an early menace with a couple of points.
But Slattery was the match-winner and with his first contribution, he finished off Daniel Flynn and Feely's approach work.
With 20 minutes left, Slattery latched on to Niall Kelly's precise hand pass and brilliantly slipped a low shot past Michael Cunningham.
Scorers - Kildare: D Slattery 2-0, K Feely 0-5 (5fs), M Donnellan (45), O Lyons, P Cribbin & T Moolick 0-1 each.
Down: D O'Hanlon 0-4f, C Mooney & B O'Hagan 0-2 each, K McKernan & J Johnston 0-1 each.
Kildare - M Donnellan 7; M O'Grady 7, D Hyland 7, O Lyons 8; J Byrne 7, E Doyle 7, K Cribbin 7; K Feely 9, T Moolick 7; F Conway 7, N Kelly 7, P Cribbin 7; C McNally 5, D Flynn 6, C Hartley 5. Subs: D Slattery 8 for McNally (h.t.), F Dowling 6 for Hartley (54), E Callaghan for Slattery (65), E Heavey for Moolick (68), S Ryan for Conway (70), L Healy for Doyle (70+5).
Down - M Cunningham 6; R McAleenan 6, B McArdle 6, D O'Hagan 6; D O'Hanlon 7, C McGovern 6, C Mooney 7; A Carr 6, P Turley 6; K McKernan 7, C Maginn 5, J Murphy 5; S Millar 6, B O'Hagan 7, R Johnston 5. Subs: A Davidson 4 for Johnston (55), N Donnelly 5 for Carr (57), J Johnston 6 for Davidson (b/c 63), M Poland for Maginn (66), S Dornan for Millar (69), C Magee for Turley (69).
Ref - N Cullen (Fermanagh).