Andrew Dempsey reports from City Calling Stadium
Shelbourne have all but ended Longford Town’s slim title hopes after a dominant defensive display saw the Reds go eight points clear of their third placed promotion rivals.
A goal and an assist from Denzil Fernandes secured a big win for the visitors, with sub Greg Moorehouse scoring seconds after coming on to seal the deal for Ian Morris’ side.
With both sides well in the title picture before the game, after the Reds recent slip-up against Cobh Ramblers, a carnival atmosphere descended on City Calling Stadium with a large away crowd present as well as a big home crowd.
However, despite the big game atmosphere, the game took its time in bursting into life with the visitors looking to stifle their hosts at every possible opportunity.
Ryan Brennan had the first shot in anger of the game, but his volley was well blocked by Longford Town midfielder Sam Verdon.
De Town produced their first real chance of the game with just under quarter of an hour played, when Sean Boyd forced Colin McCabe to tip over his glancing header from an Anto Breslin set-piece.
The first goal in a tight game like this is always going to be crucial, and it came from the away side, with recent recruit Fernandes rounding the keeper to slot home past Lee Steacy.
Shane Farrell picked up the ball in the middle of the park, before sending a defence splitting ball through to the former Cobh winger.
The 21-year-old made no mistake, sending a fervent away support into raptures at the far side of the Strokestown Road venue.
Longford struggled to get their game plan going after going behind, with the Reds defensive shape causing frustration to creep in for the home support and players.
Dean Byrne got free with just moments left of the first half, forcing a routine stop from McCabe who was more than equal to the forward’s stinging drive – leaving Shels deservedly ahead at the half-time whistle.
Fully aware that they had just forty-five minutes to resurrect their title hopes, Longford continued in a similar vein to that of the first, struggling to get their game going, with Karl Moore just skewing an effort wide five minutes into the half.
Slack defending from the hosts was punished on the hour mark as sub Moorehouse scored with his first touch of the game, steering home a Fernandes cross at the near post.
In truth, Longford never really got going at all during the game and were punished for their attacking prolificacies’ in front of goal.
Shane Elworthy had a feeble attempt at the back stick minutes later, but McCabe saved easily down to his right.
Boyd then went close minutes later, but he was unable to get his foot on the end of a Conor Kenna header, as Town looked bereft of ideas in front of a strong home support.
With time clearly not on their side, the Red and Black poured bodies forward but were unable to profit on the bouncing ball inside the penalty area, with Breslin threatening from dead ball situations.
McCabe secured the win at the death, punching clear a fierce Breslin free-kick to a huge roar from a vociferous away support, sparking wild scenes from a packed out away end.
The result sees the Reds needing just five more points to secure their return to the Premier Division after a long absence while Longford Town will have the distraction of a trip to Dalymount Park next week in the FAI Cup to get over their most recent league woe.
Longford Town: Lee Steacy; Anto Breslin, Shane Elworthy, Conor Kenna, Joseph Manley; Aodh Dervin, Dylan Grimes (Jack Doherty, 75), Michael McDonnell; Sean Boyd, Dean Byrne, Sam Verdon (Aaron Dobbs, 64).
Subs not used: Karl Chambers, Adam Evans, Jack Menton, Tristan Noack Hofmann, Dean Zambra.
Booked: Aodh Dervin (35), Sean Boyd (85).
Shelbourne: Colin McCabe; Luke Byrne, Lorcan Fitzgerald, Aidan Friel, Derek Prendergast; Ryan Brennan (Sean Quinn, 62), Oscar Brennan, Karl Moore; Shane Farrell, Denzil Fernandes (Darragh Noone, 75), Ciarán Kilduff (Greg Moorehouse, 57).
Subs not used: Conan Byrne, Dean Delany, Daniel McKenna, Dayle Rooney.
Booked: Luke Byrne (83), Darragh Noone (87), Lorcan Fitzgerald (90+4).
Referee: Adriano Reale.
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Denzil Fernandes (Shelbourne).