Cork City 1-2 Dundalk
Brian Gartland's ninth goal of the season could yet prove to be the most crucial of his career after his 85th minute winner gave league leaders Dundalk a massive victory over Cork City at Turner's Cross.
The visitors controlled the first-half and took a well deserved lead into the half-time break thanks to Richie Towell's curling effort.
Cork City rarely threatened after the interval but they were thrown a lifeline when Darren Dennehy headed home an equalizer with six minutes to play.
Dundalk, however, hit back immediately and Gartland's right footed effort moves the Lilywhites six points clear of the Leesiders with 11 games to play.
The Lilymade one change to the side that battered Bray Wanderers five days earlier with Chris Shields returning from suspension to replace Ruaidhri Higgins in midfield.
Cork City boss John Caulfield made a number of additions to his squad before the transfer window closed on Thursday and two of those new faces made their debut with Ross Gaynor and Josh O'Shea both named in the starting XI.
Garry Buckley returned from suspension, while Gearóid Morrissey was available after injury. Brian Lenihan missed out with the concussion he sustained against Bohemians.
Damp conditions left the Turner's Cross pitch very greasy as kick off approached. Referee Padraic Sutton seemed content to let a number of fouls go in the early stages but he produced the yellow card three times in the space of 30 seconds as the game boiled up approaching the 10th minute.
Colin Healy's trip on Richie Towell saw him go into the book first with Darren Meenan and Billy Dennehy following the handbags that followed.
Dundalk drew first blood after quarter of an hour. Daryl Horgan's attempted pass forward to Patrick Hoban was deflected kindly into the path of Towell and he placed his effort past Mark McNulty from 18-yards for his ninth league goal of the campaign.
The visitors pressed again in the 23rd minute. Hoban's deft back heel set Horgan up for a pop at goal but McNulty did well to save in the wet conditions. Horgan then set Darren Meenan up for a shot that flashed just wide of the target.
The bookings continued to be totted up with Towell, Colin Healy and Darren Dennehy all finding their way into Sutton's notebook before the game had even reached the half hour mark.
The natives were undoubtedly fired up for the occasion but they struggled to make an impression going forward and it took until the 35th minute for their first real effort at goal. Healy intercepted a poor pass by Dane Massey but his fierce effort cleared Peter Cherrie's crossbar.
The Dundalk goalkeeper then had to be quick to gather the ball soon after. Garry Buckley's chipped ball into the box found Mark O'Sullivan but he opted to take it down on his chest instead of heading first time and Cherrie was on hand to collect.
Dundalk should have taken a two goal lead into the break. Kurtis Byrne's break down the left ended with him pulling the ball back to the inrushing Towell but he could only smash his half volley over the top from a great position.
The rain continued to fall at the start of the second-half and Cherrie had to race from his penalty area to hack clear while at the other end Dane Massey almost capitalised on a Towell free-kick.
Massey was at the centre of controversy in the 66th minute when substitute John O'Flynn went down under pressure from the Dundalk left-back as he tried to run onto Billy Dennehy's through ball. The home crowd demanded a free-kick, and inevitable red card, but Sutton saw no infringement.
The home side continued to huff and puff in the second-half without ever looking like opening Dundalk up and their night looked to have been summed up when Cherrie was asked to make a save for the first time in the 76th minute, an easy catch from Buckley's 18-yard header.
However, urged on by the majority of the 5650 in attendance, the Leesiders managed an unlikely equaliser with seven minutes to play.
Billy Dennehy's deep free-kick from the right found its way to the back post and his brother, Darren, was on hand to hold off a number of white shirts and beat Cherrie with a header at his near post.
Parity was restored for just 60 seconds, though, as Dundalk responded like champions. Towell's free-kick was flicked on by Hoban and Gartland found himself in the thick of the action to swing his right boot and put the Lilywhites back in front.
Cherrie gathered a Billy Dennehy free-kick and Andy Boyle survived a late penalty scare in the dying minutes but Dundalk held on to claim a huge three points in the title race.
Cork City: McNulty; Dunleavy, D Dennehy, Murray, Gaynor (D Morrissey 74); G Morrissey (Kearney 80), Healy, Buckley; O'Shea (O'Flynn 58), O'Sullivan, B Dennehy.
Dundalk: Cherrie; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Shields, Towell; Meenan (Mountney 70), Byrne (Higgins 60), Horgan (McDermott 78); Hoban.
Referee: Padraic Sutton.