Billy Dennehy fired in a stunning second half free-kick to give Shamrock Rovers a 1-0 win over Sligo Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.

The winger produced a goal of the season contender as the ball flew past a helpless Ciaran Kelly from the corner of the box.

Ironically, it was Dennehy's goal for Cork City that ended Rovers' title hopes last year, but this time he was the hero for most of the 4,022 fans.

The result was harsh on Sligo as they were impressive in controlling the game for long spells, particularly in the first half.

However, they could not find the finish to match their approach play, with Paul Cook's side clearly missing recently-departed top scorer Padraig Amond.

The win puts the Hoops seven points clear at the top of the Premier Division and a step closer to their first title in 16 years. It is of even more significance as Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic both dropped two points tonight.

Rovers' four-month unbeaten league run looked in real danger but they showed that they have the squad to pull them through rough patches.

Sligo Rovers played all the football in the opening half and were denied an opener by Danny Murphy's great block on Matthew Blinkhorn after nine minutes.

At the other end, a mistake by Gavin Peers saw the ball drop to Neale Fenn. He picked out Dennehy, but his looping header cleared the crossbar.

Sligo took control thereafter and had a penalty appeal turned down when Enda Stevens controlled John Russell's cross with his chest.

With the visitors now dominating possession, former Hoop Eoin Doyle wasted a great chance. Gary McCabe's scuffed shot dropped into Doyle's path, but Alan Mannus easily saved the tame effort.

Such was Sligo's start, that a stranger would have thought that the away side were five points clear at the top of the table.

Shamrock Rovers did not help themselves by losing possession far too easily, but Sligo enhanced their reputation with some excellent moves.

The home side gave their fans something to get excited about on 30 minutes. Gary Twigg raced through on goal but Ciaran Kelly blocked the shot. The rebound dropped for Fenn but Jem Lauchlan was in the right place to get the block.

Robert Bayly gave a glimpse of Shamrock Rovers' frustration when he was booked for pulling back Russell by the shorts after losing the ball.

Minutes later, Gary McCabe's low free-kick skidded through and Mannus palmed across the box, although the home side scrambled the ball clear.

The home side were much improved in the second half and both Dennehy and Chris Turner had shots that flew just over the bar.

However, Sligo should have gone ahead after a lapse in concentration in the home defence as McCabe failed to hit the target from inside ten yards.

There was a cracking atmosphere inside the Tallaght Stadium with the home fans responding to their players' renewed efforts. They nearly took the roof off when Dennehy drilled the winner past Kelly on 68 minutes.

Sligo were certainly not out of the game and another McCabe shot was blocked on the goalline. Craig Sives then produced a last-ditch tackle on Russell to force a corner.

Sives was involved at the other end as he headed Dennehy's corner back across goal, but Twigg could not apply the finishing touch.

Sligo pushed for a deserved equaliser during four minutes of injury-time, but the home side held out to take a giant step towards the Premier Division title.

Shamrock Rovers: 1 Mannus; 19 Murphy, 4 Sives, 24 Murray, 13 Stevens; 8 Chambers, 18 Turner, 25 Bayly (17 O'Connor '44), 20 Dennehy; 9 Twigg, 11 Fenn (23 Stewart '73).

Subs not used: 16 Jennings, 15 Kavanagh, 21 McGuinness.

Booked: Bayly

Sligo Rovers: 1 Kelly; 2 Keane, 4 Peers, 20 Lauchlan, 3 Davoren; 5 Ventre, 15 N'do, 8 Russell, 11 Doyle (17 McGoldrick '83), 21 McCabe (7 Dillon '83); 9 Blinkhorn.

Subs not used: 19 Gibson, 6 O'Grady, 14 McCartney.

Booked: Ventre

Referee: Alan Kelly

Attendance: 4,022