ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC'S faint title hopes were crushed last night as leaders Shamrock Rovers dispatched the home side 3-1 at Richmond Park to whittle the chasing pack down to one.
Bohemians' are still nominally in the hunt, seven points behind, but the Tallaght side's remarkable run of 17 games unbeaten bears the hallmarks of a title-winning team.
They overcame adversity in Inchicore last night after going behind within two minutes to Ryan Guy's header. Despite missing skipper Dan Murray, who may be out for three to four weeks with a knee injury, Michael O'Neill's men took their early blow and reacted in style.
The bumper crowd had barely touched their seats before the Saints had scored.
Ex-Hoop Ian Bermingham won a corner off Danny Murphy and the Rovers defence completely missed Guy, who rose unmarked to head home Brian Cash's pinpoint cross.
Rovers were visibly shaken by the opener and Pat's looked to exploit Danny Murphy, normally a left-back, on the right. But the hosts couldn't keep up their early dominance further and Rovers began to get a foothold in the midfield battle.
The pace was fast and the tackling furious as three midfielders entered referee Dave McKeon's notebook -- Stephen Bradley and Stephen Rice for Rovers and Dave Mulcahy for Pat's.
Hot on the heels of his Player of the Month award, Aidan Price twice went close for the visitors, who were relying on set-pieces for their chances.
The centre-half headed a Billy Dennehy corner over, before he tried an audacious overhead kick from a Rice throw-in and then headed just wide from another Rice throw-in.
The early goal meant the Saints were sitting deep and inviting Rovers on to them. They were almost punished as the game neared half-time, Mulcahy met a long Rice throw, only to divert it into Gary Twigg's path but he couldn't get a touch.
The large contingent of visiting supporters in the Shed End finally got the equaliser they so desired on the cusp of the interval.
Twigg cleverly allowed Conor Kenna to climb over him and won a free-kick. James Chambers found Craig Sives, whose header came off the post, but it fell to the one man Pat's didn't want and Twigg swept the ball home.
Despite Brian Cash's shot testing Rovers' goalkeeper Alan Mannus, the game was over within 18 minutes of the restart after two of Pat's most experienced players made uncharacteristic errors to gift victory to Rovers.
Dennehy's low ball into the box should not have caused any problems for a player of Cash's experience, but he completely missed his clearance and Tommy Stewart was on hand to score his fifth goal against Pat's this season.
And as the game entered the final third Dennehy made it safe to the delight of the travelling support.
Again, one of Mahon's most experienced men made the error. Stuart Byrne miscontrolled the ball, allowing Twigg to find Dennehy, and the Tralee man rattled an unstoppable rising drive home from the edge of the box.
Pat's reacted with plenty of effort, but no penetration and their cause wasn't helped when they lost Guy with a medial ligament injury.
Substitutes James O'Brien and Danny North had chances to pull one back, while Tommy Stewart went close at the other end as Rovers closed the game out in comfort.