Kurtis Byrne gets Lilywhites back to their winning ways
Dundalk 2 Athlone Town 0
Humbled in Europe last Thursday, Dundalk got back to winning ways at Oriel Park to regain top spot in the SSE Airtricity League.
First-half goals from Patrick Hoban and Brian Gartland enabled the Lilywhites to leapfrog Cork City on goal difference.
If Stephen Kenny could have hand-picked an opposing team to visit the border venue after Thursday night's 2-0 defeat to Hajduk Split it would have been Athlone Town.
The midlanders have been on the up ever since Keith Long took over from Mick Cooke but, with a solitary point on the road to their name, and a crippling injury list, they were easy prey for Kenny's team.
So much so that, when referee Derek Tomney blew the half-time whistle, Dundalk already had one eye on the upcoming return leg with Hajduk in Croatia.
The key man in Dundalk's first-half display was Kurtis Byrne. Dropped for the European game, the 23-year-old responded with a fine performance, playing an integral part in Hoban's opener and working Ryan Coulter on a number of occasions.
The first of those came in the 14th minute when Byrne's left-footed missile from 20-yards was tipped brilliantly around the post. The save drew a huge round of applause from the crowd but referee Tomney took the shine off the stop, awarding a goal kick.
Dundalk's pressure told in the 22nd minute. A well worked move involving Darren Meenan and Hoban set Byrne up for another duel with Coulter. Again, the goalkeeper made a top-class save but Hoban was on hand to tap home the rebound.
Gartland rose to guide home a Richie Towell free-kick nine minutes later to make it 2-0.
And the big centre-back thought he had notched his second of the night when he powered home another header four minutes before the break. Referee Tomney, though, ruled the goal out after a questionable flag from the assistant.
The urgency displayed by the home side in the first half was nowhere to be seen after the break and the game soon petered out.
Dundalk – Cherrie; Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Towell, Shields; Meenan (McDermott 73), Byrne (Higgins 78), Horgan (Griffin 87); Hoban.
Athlone Town – Coulter; Quigley (Mulroney 80), D Brennan, Harney, Doyle; S Brennan (Ebbe 70), Dillon, Hughes, O'Brien, Clancy; Mulroy (Sweeney 70).
Ref – D Tomney (Dublin)