ON the run-in to a league title, there are nights when players win matches, nights when a manager wins matches and there are also nights when the fans win matches.
Last night at Tallaght Stadium was one of the latter.
A fortnight ago when Michael O'Neill's side swaggered to victory over UCD, many observers swore they had just witnessed the performance of league champions.
Last night, however, they pulled off a 1-0 win of a completely different ilk, but one of far more importance.
Having been thoroughly outplayed by Sligo Rovers side for almost an hour, the Hoops' stadium spontaneously erupted into deafening chants of encouragement.
They were on the ropes and needed something from nothing. And so, with 68 minutes gone and the simmering atmosphere rising to boiling point, Billy Dennehy stepped up to take a free-kick from 20 yards out.
Technically, it looked far too far wide to produce a goal but the Kerryman defied any scientific analysis of the set-piece by swerving a delightful strike just inside the far post.
With that goal came near-confirmation that the Hoops will be crowned champions of the 2010 season, barring a collapse of epic proportions.
They now sit seven points clear of the chasing pack but, more tellingly, carry a momentum that suggests a first Premier League trophy since 1994 is a mere inevitability.
The past week may well prove a turning point in Sligo's season, too, after they lost their hitman, and former Hoops striker, Padraig Amond to Portuguese Premier League side Pacos de Ferriera in a deal worth €50,000.
While the move will provide the kind of financial cushion that is always welcome, it will no doubt leave a gaping hole in Paul Cook's squad.
They were always up against the odds last night in their first game since the Carlow man's departure, while the losses of midfield dynamo Richie Ryan to suspension and Romauld Boco to international duty with Benin increased the weight upon their shoulders.
But they came out with all guns blazing in a rivetting opening half hour in Tallaght, out-playing their more illustrious opponents in the opening half but were to pay for their profligacy as the in-form Dennehy sealed three points for Hoops.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus, Murphy, Sives, Murray, Stevens; Chambers, Turner, Bayly (43), Dennehy; Twigg, Fenn (Stewart 72).
SLIGO ROVERS: Kelly, Keane, Peers, Lauchlan, Davoren; Doyle (McGoldrick 82), Ventre, Russell, Ndo, McCabe (Dillon 82); Blinkhorn.
REF: A Kelly (Cork).