Dundalk edged ever closer to sealing back-to-back SSE Airtricity League titles tonight thanks to a 1-0 away victory over Waterford FC at the Regional Sports Centre.
The home side had enjoyed a return to form in recent weeks but they couldn't match the Lilywhites, with a first-half Daniel Kelly strike securing their seventh league win in a row and earning them a 12-point lead over second-place Shamrock Rovers with just five games remaining.
Robbie Benson and Andy Boyle were among four changes from the Dundalk side who claimed the first trophy of a potential domestic treble in Derry last weekend while Alan Reynolds made four changes from the eleven who secured a 2-1 victory at Dalymount Park last Friday - with Cory Galvin and Michael O'Connor promoted from substitutes to the starting line-up.
The Blues started the brighter side and Michael O'Connor spurned a chance to give them an early lead when the onrushing Gary Rogers blocked his one-on-one effort following Tom Holland's clipped ball in behind.
A teasing Georgie Poynton delivery crept narrowly wide before Pat Hoban curled a free-kick to the right of Matthew Connor's goal and the league leader's threat on the counter was illustrated when Benson, Hoban, Duffy and McGrath combined neatly although the ball flicked up into the arms of the Waterford keeper as the playmaker attempted to pull the trigger.
JJ Lunney started a move which resulted in a Galvin shot which was deflected over while Duffy blazed over at the other end as Dundalk grew more comfortable in the game.
The opener arrived in the 37th minute when Rob Slevin appeared to go down softly on the sideline to allow Hoban to sprint goalwards and square for Daniel Kelly who confidently scored his fourth goal against the Blues this month following his hat-trick in the FAI Cup quarter final a fortnight ago.
The visitors improved after the break but neither goal was seriously threatened in the dull half hour after the restart although good defending from Kevin Lynch prevented the goalscorer from doubling his tally following a powerful Duffy run down the left wing.
With Dundalk content keeping possession in their own third, the half only sprung into action in the final five minutes when Connor pushed away McEleney's right-footed effort and Duggan couldn't find enough power to fire his low effort past Rogers at the other end with the home side's best chance of the half.
As the game moved into injury time the onrushing Sam Bone watched an on-target shot blocked after the Dundalk netminder had fumbled a looping cross and the Lilywhites saw out the closing minutes for another valuable win.
Waterford FC: Matthew Connor; Sam Bone, Rory Feely, Rob Slevin, Kevin Lynch; Tom Holland (Duggan, 65), Georgie Poynton; Cory Galvin (Figueira, 59), JJ Lunney (O'Halloran, 78), Zack Elbouzedi; Michael O'Connor.
Substitutes: Paul Martin (GK), Shane Duggan, Maxi Kouogun, Dean O'Halloran, Dean Walsh, Darragh Power, Walter Figueira.
Dundalk FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Andy Boyle, Daniel Cleary, Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Murray, 84); Daniel Kelly (McEleney, 78), Jamie McGrath, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Kelly, 88).
Substitutes: Aaron McCarey (GK), Sean Hoare, Patrick McEleney, Georgie Kelly, Dane Massey, Sean Murray, Cameron Dummigan.Referee: Derek Tomney