A NIGHT when guts were more important than grace and glamour, but St Patrick's Athletic managed to get the balance right and the win they needed to go back on top of the league table thanks to a 1-0 win over Dundalk.
And Saints boss Pete Mahon said he was proud of his players as the home side, playing with 10 men for most of the game after a first-half red card for midfielder Dave McAllister, ground out a win with Paul Byrne's goal.
"I am very proud of the players for the level of performance they put in last night, especially after we went a man down. There was a lot of intimidation going on, as there was when we played them in Oriel Park, but I am pleased with my players," said Mahon.
"The back four is the strongest point of our team and they had to be very good last night as we were under sustained periods of pressure. In fairness to Dundalk they used the extra man very well. They had great width in their team and gave us some problems, but once again our back four and keeper were magnificent. Our two centre backs were top drawer, as they have been week in, week out.
"We needed to be very good defensively last night. We didn't create too much in the second half as we couldn't keep the ball long enough, but Paul Byrne up front played very well. And he's starting now to realise the potential that I knew he had.
"But they all put in a good shift last night. We had to do that as Dundalk are a good side, top of the league and I am very pleased with the win. It gives us a bit of momentum after Monday's defeat to UCD," added Mahon as Pats take over top spot in the league from Dundalk. The Saints are ahead of Ian Foster's side on goal difference on a night when Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers and UCD both clocked up impressive wins.
Pats looked off-colour at times in some of their recent games -- in successive defeats to Shamrock Rovers and UCD -- but there was plenty of fight and spirit from the men in red shirts last night, Pats overcoming the handicap of playing for almost an hour with 10 men after the first-half dismissal for midfielder McAllister.
Thankfully Pats were already ahead when referee Declan Hanney sent off McAllister, as Paul Byrne had netted his fourth goal of the season after only three minutes. Dundalk keeper Peter Cherrie had done well to deny Derek Doyle with a save, but the rebound fell to Byrne and the former UCD man blasted the ball home.
Pats looked to build on that early lead but they needed a major reshuffle with two incidents in the space of four minutes. First, they lost captain Damian Lynch to injury on 33 minutes, the defender forced off with a hamstring problem and replaced by Derek Pender. And that injury now makes Lynch a doubt for next Saturday's Setanta Sports Cup final against Bohemians, a cruel blow for the player if he's denied the chance to lift the trophy.
But four minutes later the home side were down to 10 men as McAllister was shown a straight red for reacting to a challenge from former Saint Stephen Maher.
Pats boss Mahon was unhappy with how the red card came out. "From where I was sitting, the Dundalk player kicked our player in the chest. Our player retaliated, which you can't do and I can't condone. You don't hurt players by giving them a dig or throwing a punch, you hurt them by putting the ball in the back of their net," said Mahon.
"I was annoyed over that, but there was a lot of stuff going on. It seemed to carry over from the match in Oriel Park."
The sending off should have given Dundalk the impetus, but the most they had to offer in the first half was a shot by defender Ian Hatswell, which was saved by keeper Gary Rogers.
Dundalk tried to make the one-man advantage work for them, and there were positive signs in the second half as Neale Fenn went close with a shot soon after the restart. But for all their possession, Dundalk were unable to get sight of the Pats goal which was so well protected by centre halves Shane Guthrie and Conor Kenna, as late chances from Johnny Breen and JJ Melligan failed to trouble Rogers.
Dundalk boss Foster admitted that it was a frustrating night for his side.
"It was like a training session at times. We dealt with them quite well apart from that early goal," he said.
"I'm disappointed with the way we conceded the goal but after that we were magnificent for 85 minutes, but we lacked that cutting edge. We are the top scorers in the league but we were disappointing in the final third of the field, not up to our usual standards."