Dundalk effectively ended St. Patrick's Athletic's title ambitions for this season when they pegged Liam Buckley's side to a 2-0 loss on Friday night at Richmond Park with a double from man of the match Daryl Horgan.
A first half goal from Horgan and a Kenny Browne red card was fit into an opening forty-five minutes of utter pandemonium, as a ferociously competitive atmosphere coated with yellow cards, harsh tackles and pristine drama enveloped Richmond Park.
Both sides matched one another’s advances in the opening fifteen minutes as a James Chambers effort was cancelled out by the persistent drives of John Mountney on the right hand side.
Christy Fagan returned from injury to provide an initial sense of spark and inventiveness for the Pats attack, as a Killian Brennan-Chris Forrester combination found Fagan with oceans of space to avail of before releasing a shot that was blocked down by Dundalk captain Andy Boyle.
In a series of combination plays from Dundalk throughout the first half, John Mountney played a one-two and sprinted past Kenny Browne before being cut across instinctively by Sean Hoare who then cleared, but the ball then found itself back at the feet of Mountney who crossed to an unmarked David McMillan whose header went tamely wide.
The game exploded into action on the half hour mark when Kenny Browne, on an awful night for the for the usually reliable centre back, gifted the ball to John Mountney who ran at the Pats defence. He laid the ball off to David McMillan who then found an unmakred Daryl Horgan to slot the ball past Clarke to put Dundalk 1-0 up on twenty-nine minutes.
Browne again lost pace on McMillan who skipped past the defender to provide a cross for Ronan Finn but the ball swept past everyone in the Pats box in a dangerous move for the Lilywhites.
McMillan, a livewire on the night, found himself free of his marker once again as his looping volley dipped over the Pats crossbar, before the game turned from bad to worse for the aforementioned Kenny Browne.
The defender left referee Neil Doyle no choice but to put him in the book for challenges on John Mountney and Richie Towell before a red card was produced for one can only imagine was after words with referee Doyle from Browne that resulted in the player being sent off on 33 minutes.
Chris Forrester was forced to make way as Jason McGuinness was introduced to fill the void at centre back as Pats were forced to play out the rest of the game a man down.
Pats refused to lay down in the face of adversity as striker Christy Fagan revitalised a previously limp Pats attack. The forward found himself on the end of a Conan Byrne cross to steer the ball away from Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers in the Dundalk goal, but Andy Boyle came back to deter Fagan from a destined tap-in.
The first half ended as it endured, with Dundalk threatening to score as Chris Shields played in Horgan who was once again found free in enemy lines in-between the Pats defensive line, however the midfielder's free shot was saved astonishingly by the hands of Brendan Clarke who dived high and left to deny Horgan his second to keep Pats in the game.
Pats came back into the game in the second forty-five as a defence-splitting Conan Byrne through ball to follow Fagan's initial run behind the Dundalk defence, however the striker's effort was sliced and glanced the side netting of the goal in Pats' closest opportunity of the game so far.
Horgan was allowed endless chances throughout the game, and his curling cross was just missed by the leap of David McMillan as the ball was saved eventually by the anticipated dive of Brendan Clarke.
But Horgan was to get his second on the night as an interchanging of passes between Dane Massey and Ronan Finn in a flowing move of fluid football was picked up by Horgan inside the Pats box to hammer the ball past Brendan Clarke on the hour mark to put Dundalk 2-0 up and in control of the affair.
Pats would not lie down though as an instinctive run from Conan Byrne was almost rewarded with a goal as a one-two with substitute Jamie McGrath put the midfielder dancing through challenges in the Dundalk box, but his final effort was to drag narrowly wide of the post in a move of individual brilliance.
Jamie McGrath offered hope in the form of his own dazzling run as Aaron Greene fed the ball through to McGrath who, denying the opportunity to pass to a team-mate as he took on all comers, beat all Dundalk defenders in a magical run of tricks and turns, dummies and feints, for the ball to fall to Greene again but his shot being blocked down and saved by Gary Rogers in the Dundalk goal.
Greene and McGrath would inspire their teammates in the final minutes as they forced a corner to be headed by Jason McGuinness and duly tipped over the bar by Rogers.
But despite the efforts of Pats young future prospects, the damage had already been done by an outstanding Daryl Horgan on a night when St. Pats fell sixteen points behind their opponents, and Dundalk marched on still unbeaten to the possibility of back-to-back titles.
St. Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; James Chambers (Lee Desmond 65), Sean Hoare, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne, Killian Brennan, Greg Bolger, Aaron Greene, Chris Forrester (Jason McGuinness 37); Christy Fagan (Jamie McGrath 65).
Subs Not Used: Conor O'Malley (gk), Conor McCormack, Morgan Langley, Ciaran Kilduff.
Bookings: Byrne (26), Browne (29), Browne (36), Fagan (37), Bolger (55).
Sent off: Browne (36)
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Paddy Barrett, Dane Massey; Chris Shields; John Mountney, Ronan Finn (George Poynton 90+3), Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan (Jake Kelly 88); David McMillan (Kurtis Byrne 81).
Subs Not Used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Stephen O'Donnell, Shane Grimes, Darren Meenan.
Bookings: McMillan (53), Boyle (72).
Referee: Neil Doyle
Attendance: 2,000 (estimate)
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Daryl Horgan (Dundalk)