THE BIGGEST crowd of the season and the biggest win of the season combined as St Patrick's bossed their way through their meeting with league rivals Dundalk to move one step closer to their first league title in 14 years.
Second half goals from Christopher Forrester and Daryl Kavanagh made the difference on a massive night for Liam Buckley's side, who now move three points clear at the top of the table and the Saints can head into the five-game title run-in full of confidence, their next fixtures against a relegation-threatened Bray Wanderers and UCD.
All year, there have been doubts expressed by some whether Buckley's team of ball-playing, slick-passing footballers had the bottle needed to land that title but this win was a big statement of intent.
"There was a lot of talk before the game about pressure and the fact that there was momentum behind Dundalk, but we have had momentum for three months now, we have been top of the table for 3 months and we weren't going to let that go, I knew that from the players in the dressing room beforehand," said a delighted Saints boss Buckley.
"We need to push on now and have the belief in ourselves in the next few games, we have a little edge now and we have to maintain that but also keep our feet on the ground, we only got three points last night.
"But that's another clean sheet for us and that's been the foundation for our season. We have a big game now next week, against Bray on Thursday, and that's a hard game for us.
"I would have been happy to win and play poorly, so to play well and win was nice. We will enjoy the win but we have to keep our feet on the ground, we're only three points ahead and Sligo are only five points behind us.
"It was a bit hectic in the first half and even in the second half but overall we're delighted with the result," added Buckley.
With both teams playing such an expansive and attractive style of play, goals were expected, but they were hard to come by in the first half. A brilliant atmosphere at Richmond Park in front of a crowd of 3,313 - the best of the season - teed up a night of great football, but instead the opening stages were tight and nervous.
Richie Towell tried to make something happen for Dundalk in the fifth minute but Killian Brennan moved in to snuff out the danger, while on 13 minutes Brennan forced a save from Dundalk keeper Peter Cherrie, and six minutes later Brennan was again the threat, his free kick easily saved by Cherrie.
A draw here would have suited third-placed Sligo Rovers, who won their game away to UCD to remain in contention, but midfielder Forrester managed to get Pats ahead on 50 minutes, the U21 cap - watched by Ireland U21 team boss Noel King last night - beating Cherrie from Ger O'Brien's cross with a rare header, Forrester's first goal in four months.
"Christopher is one of the three best headers of the ball at the club, he just doesn't get himself into those positions to score often enough but it was a great goal," said Buckley.
And seven minutes later the win was secured with a second goal from the Saints, Kavanagh's strike a moment to behold as he picked up on a pass from the persistent Conan Byrne and fired home.
Dundalk were struggling at this stage and a bad night took a turn for the worse when captain Stephen O'Donnell was sent off on 70 minutes, the skipper shown a straight red for a push on Ger O'Brien.
Left back Ian Bermingham, an unsung hero for Pats this season and probably their most consistent player, almost got in on the act when he forced a save from Cherrie in injury time.