Limerick 1-3 Dundalk
Dundalk are just one victory away from retaining the SSE Airtricity League title after coming from a goal down to beat bottom of the table Limerick 3-1 at the Markets Field.
The hosts stunned the champions elect when Dean Clarke drew first blood after just 70 seconds and they frustrated Dundalk as they held that lead until the 76th minute.
Dundalk, however, showed their class as the game approached the death and three goals in the space of six minutes from Richie Towell - with a brace - and Ciaran Kilduff leave the Lilywhites on brink of the title.
Stephen Kenny’s side had to plan without injured centre back Brian Gartland and his absence was highlighted inside the second minute as the home side took a sensational lead.
Shane Tracy’s corner from the right was flicked on by Vinny Faherty at the near post and Clarke was on hand to thump home at the back post.
From then on, it was the visitors who dominated, but a combination of poor finishing and some fine goalkeeping by Freddy Hall kept them at bay.
They should have pulled level after five minutes when Shaun Kelly’s ball across the back four left Robbie Williams in trouble. Darren Meenan hustled the Limerick centre back and burst clear but his effort lacked conviction and Hall made the block.
From the resulting corner, Paddy Barrett saw his curling effort gathered.
Martin Russell’s side always looked a threat from dead ball situations and Tracy caused more hassle in the Dundalk penalty area on the quarter hour mark, his cross cum shot having to be clawed away by Gary Rogers for a corner.
It was one way traffic for the most of the remainder of the half as Dundalk began to pin the Blues back in their own half.
Urged on by a vocal support, the home side went within inches of making it 2-0 just before the break.
Faherty tried his luck from 25-yards, his drive taking a wicked deflection off Andy Boyle, only to see the ball drop agonisingly over the crossbar.
The hosts started the second half on the front foot with Tracy and Clarke working the left flank really well, leading to quick fire yellow cards for Gannon and Meenan.
It was the opposite wing, however, that almost led to a second for the hosts. Kelly’s cross was only cleared as far as Turner on the edge of the penalty area but Gary Rogers made a sensational stop to turn his goalbound effort over the top.
Stephen Kenny introduced Stephen O'Donnell and Ciaran Kilduff and Dundalk bossed possession as the half wore on, but they found it hard to create any real openings with Limerick staying compact and denying space in and around the box.
A patient move ended with Hall saving, once more, from Finn after Meenan and Gannon had worked the move.
The keeper then showed safe hands again three minutes later, Daryl Horgan having to try his luck from distance due to the compact Limerick defensive line in front of him.
The natives continued to hold on to hope but their dreams of claiming an unlikely win that would have moved them off the foot of the table were blown away by three goals in the space of six minutes.
Towell finally beat Hall when he latched onto a Kilduff knock down to steer the ball home after 76 minutes, the midfielder taking his tally to 20 league goals for the campaign.
Number 21 arrived four minutes later, Towell's effort on the right deflecting off the unlucky Shane Duggan and looping over the flat footed Hall.
That goal left the Dundalk fans in fine voice, and they were left dreaming of winning the title against Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght in two weeks time when Kilduff breached the Limerick back four to collect Horgan’s slide rule pass and finish the game as a contest.
Limerick: Freddy Hall; Shaun Kelly, Robbie Williams, Patrick Kanyuka, Shane Tracy; Paul O’Conor (Prince Agyemang 87), Shane Duggan; Ian Turner, Lee J Lynch (Sean Russell 70), Dean Clarke; Vinny Faherty.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Paddy Barrett, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Richie Towell, Chris Shields (Stephen O’Donnell 63); Darren Meenan (John Mountney 75), Ronan Finn, Daryl Horgan; David McMillan (Ciaran Kilduff 67).
Referee: Neil Doyle.