Dundalk's Airtricity League title hopes are teetering on the brink following a 2-1 defeat to Limerick at Oriel Park.

Rory Gaffney took his season's tally to eight by bagging a brace that will have been celebrated just as loudly in Inchicore as it will have been in Thomond Park.

Richie Towell gave Dundalk a chink of hope with a 68th minute penalty but the Blues held on to record their second league victory of the season over the Lilywhites, and what a costly one it could be for Stephen Kenny's team.

The result sends Dundalk sliding into third place, a point behind Sligo Rovers and a further six behind league leaders St Patrick's Athletic who look to be holding all the aces with just four fixtures to play.

Despite fears that he may miss the rest of the campaign with a groin injury, Dundalk were able to name new FIFA 14 cover star Patrick Hoban in their starting XI.

Stuart Taylor wasn't afforded the same luxury though as fellow FIFA poster boy Shane Tracy missed out for the Blues although Joe Gamble returned in place of David O'Leary, the only change to the side that beat Shamrock Rovers three nights previously.

With St Patrick's Athletic winning at the Carlisle Grounds on Thursday night, Dundalk knew that only a win would do to keep their title hopes alive.

And the home side started on the front foot, forcing two corners in the opening minutes, the second of which Hoban swept over the crossbar.

The roof caved in on the Lilywhites in the 18th minute as the Blues took the lead with their first attack of the game.

After turning the ball over in midfield, Stephen Bradley's lofted pass found Rory Gaffney and he stunned Oriel Park with a fine volley that beat Peter Cherrie - and no doubt sent fans of St Pat's into raptures.

The Limerick haymaker landed seven minutes later.

Patrick Nzuzi's ball over the top set Gaffney clear. The striker looked to be clearly offside but the assistant's flag stayed down and the Blues number nine made no mistake to leave Dundalk's title bid on the ropes.

The sense that it just wasn't going to be Dundalk's night was heightened even more when Kurtis Byrne and Patrick Hoban headed over soon after with chances that the pair have been gobbling up in recent weeks.

And it was Limerick who almost added a final nail in the coffin; Craig Curran's header pushed against the woodwork by Cherrie nine minutes before half-time. 

There was another let-off for the home side in first-half injury time when Chris Shields clattered Carel Tiofack. A bout of handbags ensued with referee Derek Tomney speaking to both his assistants before issuing just a yellow card to the fortunate Shields.

A Mark Rossiter drive hinted that there might be a Dundalk onslaught on the way at the start of the second-half but Limerick once again regained their composure and the woodwork denied Curran again in the 53rd minute.

With their hopes fading into the Oriel Park night, Dundalk were thrown a lifeline in the 66th minute when they were awarded a penalty.

Samuel Oji's hand came up to wave the ball away from Hoban and Richie Towell sent Barry Ryan the wrong way from the penalty spot to haul Dundalk back in it and raise the volume at the Louth venue.

Hoban missed another gilt edged header as the game approached the final 20 minutes and Dane Massey then floated a free-kick over the top as Kenny's head tried to build a head of steam

But they were thwarted in their efforts as Stuart Taylor's men held on comfortably to record their second win in a week and edge the league title just that little bit closer to Richmond Park.

Dundalk: Cherrie; Rossiter, Boyle, Gartland, Massey; Dillon (Mountney 54), Shields (Keegan 83), Towell; Meenan, Hoban, Byrne (Mulvenna 59).

Limerick: Ryan; Nzuzi, Folan, Oji, Williams; Bradley, Gamble, Hughes, Tiofack (Kelly 71); Gaffney, Curran.

Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin).