Derry City’s fight for Premier Division survival will go down to the final day as they were comfortably swatted aside by Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium on Saturday evening.
Second-half goals from Graham Burke and Aaron Greene saw Rovers to their 14th league win of the season and they can wrap up an unbeaten campaign at Shelbourne on Monday night.
Both sides have been hit by Covid-related lay-offs in recent weeks but it was the visitors, playing their first game back after a two-week break in which they couldn’t train, who were more affected.
Declan Devine’s side were always going to be in for a tough time as they battle for the point they need to secure safety.
They never really got going on a chilly night beneath the Dublin Mountains and travelled directly to Cork after the game to begin preparations for a pivotal meeting with relegated Cork City.
Such was the complete control that Rovers possessed during the first half that Derry struggled to string more than a handful of passes together against visibly fresher opposition.
The only wonder was that the sides went in level, though the Candystripes could easily have takena lead into the break.
A mistake from Derryman Danny Lafferty saw him pass straight to Jack Malone and, with Alan Mannus out of his goal, it took sharp reactions from Roberto Lopes to turn his shot behind.
Rovers’ first real chance arrived six minutes before the break and, like Derry’s moments earlier, it came from a sloppy defensive error.
Conor Clifford coughed up the ball on the edge of his box and Burke took full advantage, curling a shot with the outside of his left boot that cracked the far post and bounced clear.
Jack Byrne could have broken the deadlock as he snapped up the loose ball but Burke got in the way of his goalbound shot.
Rovers began to move through the gears in the second half and started to create chances, Lee Grace heading over from a corner within a minute of the resumption.
Lafferty very nearly broke the deadlock as he latched onto a perfect Byrne crossfield pass but, after outflanking Malone, his shot trickled inches past the post.
Burke was continuing to find his range from distance and another snapshot rippled the outside of Peter Cherrie’s next. The next time it would be the right side of the net bustling.
Malone was harshly judged with impeding Lafferty on the left-hand corner of the box. Though it was the on his ‘wrong’ side, Burke curled a wonderful shot around the wall and past Cherrie.
A beautiful through-ball from Liam Scales sent substitute Aaron Greene through on goal but Cherrie was equal to his toe-poked finish.
As three minutes of injury time appeared on the fourth official’s board, however, Greene made amends with a tidy finish when played in by Aaron McEneff.
Avoid defeat against Shelbourne on Monday and Bradley's sude will become the first since Shamrock Rovers in 1927 to go a season unbeaten.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Lee Grace, Roberto Lopes 63, Liam Scales; Ronan Finn (Max Murphy 64), Aaron McEneff, Dylan Watts (Darragh Nugent 75), Danny Lafferty (Sean Kavanagh 64); Graham Burke (Aaron Greene 64), Jack Byrne, Dean Williams (Thomas Oluwa 75).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Rhys Marshall.
Booked: Dylan Watts (22).
Derry City: Peter Cherrie; Darren Cole (Gerardo Bruna 46), Eoin Toal, Cameron McJannet, Ciaran Coll; Conor McCormack, Conor Clifford (Jake Dunwoody 68), Joe Thomson (Ciaron Harkin 68); Adam Hamill (Oluwaseun Akintunde 68), Jack Malone, Walter Figueira (Patrick Ferry 80).
Subs not used: Nathan Gartside (gk), Ronan Boyce.
Booked: Jack Malone (60), Cameron McJannet (65), Ciaron Harkin (87), Conor McCormack (90+3).
Referee: Damien McGraith (Mayo).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Aaron McEneff (Shamrock Rovers).