Horgan magic inspires Dundalk to extend their advantage
Dundalk 3 Derry City 1
This was the Daryl Horgan show. After a week where Seamus Coleman advocated an international call and Martin O'Neill said that Dundalk's fixture logjam was the only reason for his exclusion from his latest squad, the winger was the key factor at Oriel Park.
He was involved in the creation of all three goals as Stephen Kenny's side came from behind to go eight points clear with two games more played than second-placed Cork.
Dundalk needed a win from their last scheduled league outing for a fortnight, with their final seven games due to be slotted into a three-week window.
Earlier in the day, they learned that Cork will visit on October 11, and that caused some disquiet in Oriel Park as they feel the Leesiders will arrive into that match fresh if their previous league match is called off due to the likelihood of U-21 call-ups.
But wiggle room is limited and points on the board mean everything. This result puts pressure on John Caulfield's charges ahead of their date with Sligo Rovers.
The evening had started disastrously for the locals, with a positive approach from Kenny Shiels' side rewarded.
Barry McNamee's intelligent movement playing off lone striker Rory Patterson is an effective weapon and he slipped into space to unleash a shot that Gary Rogers could only parry into the direction of Lucas Schubert. A slip from Dane Massey meant the Austrian was unmarked as he tapped home.
The response from the champions was impressive.
By the quarter-hour mark, they were ahead, with Horgan the inspiration.
Right-full Conor McDermott was tormented by the man of the moment. He was left for dead as the Galwegian scampered down the left, then cleverly cut inside and squared the ball across the area where Dave McMillan fluffed a gilt-edged opportunity and was fortunate John Mountney was waiting to drill home.
Dundalk immediately went in search of another, with Horgan cutting inside a posse of Derry pursuers and teeing up McMillan for a right-footer that Ger Doherty pushed behind.
Mountney's subsequent delivery was nodded against the bar by Massey but again, a white shirt reacted quickest as Brian Gartland followed up for his second headed goal of the week.
That was enough to carry the hosts to the interval in front, with quality replaced by scrappy exchanges, with the atrocious pitch as irritating as usual.
Derry did try and press on, with McNamee continuing to find threatening positions as the much improved northerners showed why they are in the European shake-up.
But Kenny's charges turned the screw from the restart and a wonderful team goal gave them the crucial cushion before the hour mark.
Ex-Brandywell favourite Patrick McEleney was influential across the evening and he conducted the switch of play that gave the unselfish Horgan the opportunity to intelligently slip through McMillan for his 20th goal of the season.
Kenny worked his bench thereafter and can now focus on Thursday's Europa League date with Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Israelis will be keeping an eye on Horgan. O'Neill should be too.
Dundalk - Rogers, Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; O'Donnell (Benson 80), Finn; Mountney (Shields 74), McEleney, Horgan; McMillan (Kilduff 72).
Derry City - G Doherty, McDermott, Vemmelund, Karner (B Doherty 65), Jarvis; McCormack, McEneff; Schubert, McNamee, Curtis; Patterson.
Ref - P McLaughlin (Monaghan)