Night to forget for Kenny as Lilies' challenge wilts
Dundalk 1 Limerick 2
THREE points for Limerick, but a bigger win for St Patrick's Athletic as Dundalk's title hopes evaporated on a night to forget for Stephen Kenny.
This crushing reverse means they are six points behind the Saints with four games remaining, and third in the table with Sligo Rovers now the chief pursuers.
Limerick, on the other hand, have proved to be Dundalk's chief tormentors. The Blues have taken seven points from a possible nine in their three meetings this term, and withstood a second-half aerial barrage and five minutes of injury-time to claim another notable scalp after they saw off Shamrock Rovers on Tuesday.
Their time-wasting methods to close out the victory infuriated the Oriel Park faithful, but Stuart Taylor's troops won this game with a tactically astute first-half approach that left the title chasers with too much to do.
The challenge for Dundalk entering this fixture was to bounce back from the setback of a pivotal defeat at Richmond Park. But Limerick had done their homework and pressed high from the outset, with their fluid attacking options snapping at heels and refusing to allow the Louth men to settle into their stride.
In the 18th minute, that pressure was paid off as home midfielder John Dillon was caught in possession, and Stephen Bradley mopped up the consequences to loft a precise ball to the right side of the penalty area, where Rory Gaffney was on hand to produce a fantastic first-time volley that Peter Cherrie could only help into the net.
Dundalk striker Pat Hoban, a surprise inclusion considering he was expected to miss out with a groin problem, almost restored parity, but the first half was a tale of woe for the hosts and they were caught out again by Gaffney when he breached the offside trap to collect a Patrick Nzuzi pass and calmly slotted past Cherrie.
On the sidelines Kenny, who was enraged by the officiating in the Saints defeat, again cried foul as he believed a flag should have been raised.
If a break went against Dundalk there, fortune was required to prevent further agony before the interval with Craig Curran twice denied by fine Cherrie saves before Chris Shields risked a red card with a rash challenge on Carel Tiomack that prompted Limerick uproar and a bout of pushing and shoving. Referee Derek Tomney consulted with his assistants and produced a yellow for Shields.
Prior to that incident, Dundalk might have reduced the deficit when the unmarked Hoban botched a header from a Meenan delivery, and the natives expected further chances of that quality to be created from the resumption but white shirts struggled to find each other as Curran again threatened with a curler that shaved the woodwork.
Dundalk kept fighting, though, even if they adopted a more direct approach than usual. There was a glimmer of hope with 25 minutes to go, however, as they cut Limerick's lead when the hand of Samuel Oji prevented Hoban's advance inside the area and Tomney pointed to the spot. Richie Towell stepped up to convert.
Roared on by the crowd, Kenny's men pressed for an equaliser but their best chance came almost immediately when Hoban, who cut a frustrated figure throughout, miscued from a Darren Meenan free-kick.
The Lilywhites had come from two behind to level in the first clash between the sides at this venue earlier in the year, but they lacked the subtlety to repeat the feat. They have to pick themselves up for the visit of Derry on Monday but next week's cup semi-final with Drogheda may now offer the most realistic path to glory.
Dundalk – Cherrie, Rossiter, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Dillon (Mountney 54), Shields (Keegan 82), Towell, Meenan; Byrne (Mulvenna 59), Hoban
Limerick – Ryan, Nzuzi, Oji, Folan, Williams; Bradley, Hughs, Gamble; Tiofack (Kelly 71), Curran, Gaffney
Ref – D Tomney (Dublin)