St Patrick's Athletic bounced back from their midweek European disappointment in the best possible fashion, recording a 2-0 away win over Athlone Town to go back within six points of the top of the Airtricity League Premier Division table.
Goals from Chris Forrester and Sean Hoare were enough to wrap up the victory for the visitors.
Athlone, however, showed enough in between the two concessions to suggest that they aren’t out of the running to escape the drop back to the first division either, enjoying plenty of possession and testing Brendan Clarke on several occasions.
Clarke’s counterpart Ryan Coulter was also in outstanding form at the other end of the field and produced fantastic stops to deny James Chambers and Conan Byrne in either half.
However, he could do nothing about Forrister’s tap in goal in the seventh minute, or the close range header from Hoare that made the three points safe.
St Pat's played their best football in the opening quarter and their early strike was fair reward for the control that they exerted on the tie.
Greg Bolger opened up the Athlone defence with an excellent diagonal lob towards Christy Fagan and once the Pat's striker forced Ryan Coulter to advance from his line, he then played a lateral ball across to Forrister.
The precocious midfielder was left with the simplest of finishes to open the scoring.
It took the hosts 20 minutes to finally create a meaningful attack and when they did so, they failed to test Brendan Clarke in the Pats’ goal.
Kealan Dillon’s long ball was well headed down by Mark Hughes on the edge of the champions’ penalty area but the ball fell a yard behind Philip Gorman, who did well to get a clean purchase on it as he reached around to strike but failed to direct it either side of Clarke.
However this effort was the signal for Athlone to begin to exert their influence on the tie and right up until Seán Hoare’s headed goal with a little under 20 minutes to play, they were at least as good as their more celebrated opponents.
Seán Brennan’s introduction in place of the injured James O’Brien was a big boost to the home side and he came close to scoring on several occasions. Their best chance, however, came when Eric Foley’s close range free kick was tipped onto the crossbar by Clarke early in the second half.
Lady luck wasn’t kind to the hosts either as St Pat's captain Ian Bermingham was extremely lucky not to be sent off shortly before half time.
He committed two heavy challenges in the space of two minutes shortly before half time and while he was booked for the first, referee Anthony Buttimer declined to brandish a second yellow card for the latter indiscretion against Gorman at the edge of the away penalty area, despite the screams for a sanction from the Athlone players and supporters.
Derek Foran was also slightly fortunate not to be penalised for pulling Gorman to the ground in the penalty area during that first half, though Buttimer appeared to get this call right as both players seemed equally eager to grapple with each other as the ball was sent in towards them from the right wing.
St Pat's had their share of chances too but they found Ryan Coulter in excellent form in the Athlone goal. Coulter, who has deputised fantastically well for the injured Paul Skinner, produced a fabulous save to block James Chambers in a one-on-one situation in the first half and was excellent when called upon in several other instances.
However he could do nothing about Seán Hoare’s header that wrapped up the victory for the champions, the defender powering the ball home from five yards out after Conan Byrne’s inswinging corner kick fell invitingly at the far post.
Athlone’s challenge wilted from that point and they needed Coulter to prevent them falling further behind as he made a great reflex save to deny Byrne a goal of his own as injury time loomed.
However, they showed enough energy and creativity in this tie to suggest that they may yet avoid the drop
Athlone Town: Ryan Coulter; Kealon Dillon, Neil Harney, Derek Prendergast, Barry Clancy; Mark Hughes; John Mulroy (Ian Sweeney 63), Eric Foley (Thomas Mulroney 81), James O’Brien (Seán Brennan 37), Derek Doyle; Philip Gorman.
Subs not used: Dean Mahon (GK), Stephen Dunne, Alan Byrne, Dean Ebbe.
St Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Conor McCormack, Seán Hoare, Derek Foran, Ian Bermingham (Lorcan Fitzgerald 84); Greg Bolger (Lee Lynch 78); Conan Byrne, James Chambers, Chris Forrester, Mark Quigley; Christy Fagan (Daryl Kavanagh 72).
Subs not used: Rene Gilmartin, Sam Verdon, Peter Durrad.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer