Bray Wanderers 0 Dundalk 3
Dundalk’s title might be as good as gone but their form since the break suggests that the top flight is still about the top two and everyone else. With Shamrock Rovers otherwise engaged, this was Bray’s opportunity to make an assault on second place. The gap beforehand was seven points, though, and by the end even 10 seemed somehow to flatter the seasiders.
After Galway tried but failed to sit back and frustrate the champions, Harry Kenny would have been hoping to see his side take the game to them a little more. Game-plans, though, can quickly become redundant against a side this good and from the moment Wanderers conceded just a minute and 40 seconds in, the visitors were effectively in control.
Robbie Benson’s performance stood out with the midfielder getting his side’s first two goals and generally suggesting that after an earlier spell out injured he is getting back to his best at an opportune time.
Dundalk had a bit too much for the locals in just about every department, though, with Chris Shields, on after 20 minutes for the injured Stephen O'Donnell, repeatedly breaking up Bray's attempts to get forward and feeding a front four that caused Kenny's men almost endless problems.
Dylan Connolly watched from the stand after having completed his move from one club to the other. The winger's pace should add a bit of the attacking edge lost when Daryl Horgan departed but Jamie McGrath was comfortably up to the task here against a side that never really seemed to recover from the early setback.
Dundalk's passing and movement invariably left the locals looking stretched and when they really hit their stride, as they did for both of Benson's goals, there was simply no stopping them. His first had its origins in a Wanderers corner from which the visitors broke at speed and the second came after McGrath had cut in from the left and laid the ball off to the former UCD man who played a neat one-two with David McMillan before curling the ball beyond Peter Cherrie.
Pat McEleney's third, just over an hour in, was perhaps the best of the lot but the game was up for Bray even before it with Anto Flood making little or no impact up front and Gary McCabe, just behind him, looking largely anonymous until he too was replaced 10 minutes from time.
By then, the home support was starting to drift away, resigned perhaps to their team finding life a little more challenging without their livewire left winger.
The club, meanwhile, issued a statement at half-time suggesting that the decision to sell him had been influenced by its inability to generate bigger crowds to go with the generally better performances. The average number of home fans paying in, it suggested, in what appeared to be the latest chapter in its ongoing battle to be allowed redevelop the Carlisle Grounds and move the first team to the periphery of the town, is scarcely a couple of hundred.
Interest levels at Oriel will be rather higher than that over the coming weeks as the build up to the first leg of the Champions League qualifier with Rosenborg continues. Stephen Kenny could not, to be fair, ask much more of players who have now won four straight and scored 15 goals without reply since the break.
That they are scarcely being challenged, though, might say more about the lack of depth in a league that most expected to be a two horse race and surely would have been if they had played like this from the outset.
Europe, they know, will provide a sterner test.
BRAY WANDERERS: Cherrie; Buckley, Douglas, Kenna, Lynch; Salmon (Noone, 65 mins), Sullivan; Brennan, McCabe (Marks, 80 mins), Greene; Flood (Pender, 65 mins).
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Vemmelund, Massey; Benson, O'Donnell (Shields, 20 mins); Duffy, McEleney, McGrath (Mountney, 60 mins); McMillan (Kilduff, 80 mins).
Referee: R Rogers (Dublin).
Drogheda United 0 Limerick 2
Limerick moved up to sixth in the table after they defeated Drogheda United 2-0 at United Park.
The Blues had a goal disallowed on nine minutes as Shane Duggan's wayward shot was diverted over his own line by Luke Gallagher, only for Chiedozie Ogebene was adjudged to have interfered in an offside position.
There was more controversy just three minutes later as Limerick took the lead. Lee Lynch's free-kick was knocked into the path of Robbie Williams who headed beyond Stephen McGuinness with referee Robert Harvey overruling his assistant who had raised his flag for offside.
The visitors looked comfortable for long periods of the first half, though Drogheda did have some chances as Seán Brennan saw his free-kick from close range cannon back off the wall.
Brennan was involved in the action once again as his deep cross to the back post was met by the towering Ciaran McGuigan though Brendan Clarke produced a fine save to deny him.
Limerick should have doubled their lead early in the second half as Ogbene’s defence-splitting ball found Dean Clarke in acres of space but he fired over the bar from close range.
Drogheda looked devoid of ideas and the closest they came to levelling matters was when Mark Doyle sent a speculative 25-yard strike wide of goal.
The contest was over with five minutes left to play as a long bouncing ball was pounced upon by substitute Garbhan Coughlan who beat McGuinness in the air to head into an open net.
DROGHEDA: McGuinness; Deasy (Elworthy, 41 mins), Gallagher, McGuigan, Kane; McEvoy, Purdy (Thornton, 46 mins); Wixted, S Brennan, Doyle; Masterson (Meaney, 72 mins)
LIMERICK: B Clarke; Kelly, O'Connor, Williams. Whitehead; Lynch, Duggan (O'Conor, 88 mins); D Clarke (Kenny, 68 mins), Hery, Ogbene (Coughlan, 77 mins); Tosi.
Referee: R Harvey (Dublin).
St Patrick’s Athletic 1 Galway United 1
A late equaliser from substitute Pádraic Cunningham salvaged a point for Galway as the the battle of the bottom two finished in stalemate at Richmond Park.
A 50th league goal for the club from Conan Byrne was enough, however, to lift St Patrick’s out of the relegation zone, though Galway remain rooted to the bottom.
Galway controlled much of of the first half with skill and industry of Ronan Murray the visitors’ chief threat.
The Galway attacker forced the save of the half from Conor O’Malley on 29 minutes, the home goalkeeper going full stretch to push Murray’s first-time drive round a post from Kevin Devaney’s corner.
St Pat’s started the second half much the better and were ahead three minutes in. The impressive JJ Lunney got into the Galway box on the left to cross and although Christy Fagan’s layoff was overhit, the ball broke for Byrne whose low shot deflected to the bottom corner of the net off the unfortunate Marc Ludden.
Galway worked hard to respond and were inches from equalising on 64 minutes. Captain Colm Horgan got to the end line on the right to cross for Vinny Faherty whose header came out off an upright.
Galway did get their deserved reward on 83 minutes. Ludden’s long throw from the left caused confusion in the St Patrick’s area and Cunningham squeezed the ball home at the near post.
ST PATRICK'S ATHLETIC: O'Malley; Kelly, Peers (Verdon, 82 mins), Feely, Lunney; Desmond, Cregg; C. Byrne, Markey, J. O'Hanlon (B Dennehy, 66 mins); Fagan (J O'Hanlon, 66 mins). GALWAY UNITED: Winn; Horgan, Grace, Folan, Ludden; Byrne (McCormack, 79 mins), Cawley; Devaney, Holohan (Melody, 70 mins), Murray; Faherty (Cunningham, 70 mins). Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin).