St Patrick's Athletic took a massive step towards the Airtricity League Premier Division title as goals from Chris Forrester and Daryl Kavanagh gave them a 2-0 win over 10-man Dundalk at Richmond Park.

Forrester opened the scoring in the 51st minute when a well worked free-kick involving Killian Brennan and Ger O'Brien ended with the Pat's midfielder powering a great header into Peter Cherrie's bottom corner.

Liam Buckley's side were assured of all three points in the 58th minute when Daryl Kavanagh swept a cracking left-footed effort into the Dundalk net to move St Pat's three points clear of the visitors at the top of the table.

The Saints lined up without the services of suspended midfielder Greg Bolger and injured duo Stephen Maher and Shane McFaul, but Killian Brennan passed a late fitness test to take his place in the starting XI. Left-back Ian Bermingham made his 150th appearance for the Saints.

Dundalk, who came to Inchicore on the back of an eight-game winning run, lost Chris Shields and Darren Meenan through suspension, but skipper Stephen O'Donnell and Dane Massey returned to a team that contained SWAI Player of the Month for August, Richie Towell.

A cracking atmosphere welcomed the players on to the pitch and it took a couple of minutes for the smoke to clear from the flares lit by both sets of supporters.

Dundalk midfielder Towell found himself on the floor twice inside the opening stages following hefty tackles, but he recovered to carve open the first real chance of the game after five minutes.

The Inchicore native went past Killian Brennan far too easily on the right but his cutback, aimed for Patrick Hoban, was cleared behind by John Russell.

Dane Massey then tested Brendan Clarke with a right-footed effort that the Saints goalkeeper dealt with easily.

Saints soon settled to the task and it was Buckley's side who wrested control of the game for the rest of the first half.

Brennan was first to fire at the Dundalk goal; the former Bohemians star allowed travel into the Lilywhites final third only to send his shot straight at Cherrie.

The home side looked a little bit sharper in every department and Brian Gartland was relieved to see his partner Andy Boyle come to his rescue in the 14th minute after being robbed by Daryl Kavanagh just outside the penalty area.

Gartland was harshly penalised for a foul on Anto Flood 20 yards out four minutes later, but Cherrie was equal to Brennan's attempt.

Kenny was visibly frustrated by his side's inability to keep the ball and he tinkered with his formation midway through the half, switching the ineffective John Mountney to the right and moving John Dillon inside in a bid to get some control of the ball.

The move certainly helped and Dundalk saw out the half looking a bit more assured.

Indeed, they created their best opening of the half in the 44th minute. Hoban hooked the ball nicely into the path of Towell but his shot went straight down Clarke's throat and the first half ended in stalemate.

The Lilywhites opened the second half brightly and Hoban was stopped from driving an effort at Clarke by a well-timed Conor Kenna challenge.

It was St Pat's who struck the all-important first goal soon after.

Brennan switched play to the right with a quick free-kick and O'Brien went past Kurtis Byrne, before picking out Forrester with a great cross which the St Pat's midfielder planted into Cherrie's net.

The momentum was with the home side now and they doubled their lead after 58 minutes.

Conan Byrne shifted the ball out to Kavanagh on the left and he sent a rocket into the top corner to leave Dundalk on the ropes.

Kenny reacted by sending on Vinny Faherty and John Sullivan in a bid to steady the ship, but it was Saints who looked the most likely to score again, and Cherrie had to beat away another effort from Kavanagh with Dundalk all over the place at the back.

The Lilywhites chances of getting something from the game were dealt a fatal blow in the 78th minute when their captain Stephen O'Donnell was shown a straight red card by referee Tom Connolly after an altercation with Ger O'Brien.

Sitting three points clear at the summit with five games to play, it's advantage Saints after this result.

St Patrick's Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O'Brien, Conor Kenna, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne (Sean Gannon 68), John Russell, Killian Brennan, Chris Forrester, Daryl Kavanagh (Jake Kelly 79); Anto Flood.

Dundalk FC: Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter, Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; John Dillon (John Sullivan 65), Stephen O'Donnell, John Mountney (Vinny Faherty 63), Richie Towell; Kurtis Byrne (Tiarnan Mulvenna 79), Patrick Hoban.

Referee: Tom Connolly (Dublin).