Drogheda United recovered from an early setback to put Finn Harps to the sword at Head In The Game Park, as Dan O'Reilly's late goal sealed a comfortable win for Tim Clancy's side.
Mark Doyle and Darragh Markey had earlier put United in control after Will Seymore's blockbuster strike handed Harps an early lead. Doyle's contentious equaliser had Ollie Horgan apoplectic on the sidelines, but his protests didn't change the outcome.
Drogheda made three changes from the team that started the draw against Shamrock Rovers last week. Their goalscorer Chris Lyons was recalled, as was Mark Doyle and James Brown, who recovered from illness.
Horgan, who replaced Shane McEleney and Mark Coyle with Conor Barry and Ryan Rainey, arrived in Drogheda hopeful of at least replicating the draw they earned on their last visit to Head In The Game Park back in April.
Only Dane Massey's 96th winner in Ballybofey in their last minute has separated the sides this season. However, after Harps’ flying start to the campaign, they have plummeted towards the bottom two in recent months.
With a resurgent Waterford making ground and visiting Finn Park next week, the division’s longest serving manager will have viewed this as a major opportunity to improve on a record of just one win in nine attempts. Despite their fine start, it didn't turn out that way.
Despite the point in Tallaght, United have been off-colour in recent weeks and that told early on as the visitors provided the early danger.
O’Reilly took a blow to the face when he blocked Karl O’Sullivan’s goalbound shot with his face early on. The opener soon followed.
Drogheda lost possession cheaply in their own half and Harps’ capitalised. Barry McNamee squared for Seymore. The Colorado-born player had ample time and space to set himself and drill the ball low to David Odumosu’s right.
Drogheda had grown into the game by the time their leveller arrived just 13 minutes later. Mark Doyle had been denied when the covering defender Ethan Boyle hacked his shot off the line minutes before he did strike his eighth goal of a productive campaign.
It proved highly contentious however, with Finn Harps players and coaching staff – led by the apoplectic duo of Horgan and Paul Hegarty – collectively airing their dismay.
After McNamee needed treatment on the field, Harps kicked the ball out of play. In returning the ball from the throw-in, Drogheda’s Brown forced a back-peddling Mark McGinley to tip over his crossbar.
From the corner – almost inevitably – Doyle stooped to head in Luke Heeney’s delivery. Finn Harps’ protestations fell on deaf ears. At half time – after Hegarty exchanged verbals with Drogheda coach Sean Brennan – he was sent-off.
Before that, United hit the front. Darragh Markey ran at the Harps defence and from the edge of the area, managed to poke a shot past McGinley, who should have done better.
Harps offered little forward threat in the second half and after conceding from a corner and a throw-in in the first half, they completed an unwanted hat-trick when Massey teed up O'Reilly with a short free-kick. His effort was deflected past McGinley.
Drogheda United: David Odumosu; Killian Phillips, Daniel O’Reilly, Dane Massey; James Brown, Gary Deegan, Luke Heeney (James Clarke, 66), Conor Kane; Darragh Markey, Chris Lyons (Mark Hughes, 84), Mark Doyle (Dinny Corcoran, 68).
Finn Harps: Mark McGinley; Ethan Boyle, Kosovar Sadiki, John Dunleavy; Karl O'Sullivan (Ryan Connolly, 71), Conor Barry, Ryan Rainey, Will Seymore (Tony McNamee, 86), Barry McNamee; Tunde Owolabi (Sean Boyd, 71) (Stephen Doherty, 56), Adam Foley (Luke Rodden, 86).
Referee: Adriano Reale (Kildare)