Shamrock Rovers took another small step towards a second consecutive league title with a win over Waterford at Tallaght Stadium.
Returning from suspension, Danny Mandroiu missed a series of chances throughout the first half before firing home two second-half strikes to return the league leaders to winning ways.
The victory was all the sweeter for Rovers fans as second-placed St Patrick's Athletic fell to a 2-0 defeat away to Sligo Rovers.
The Hoops went into the match in a vein of uncharacteristically poor form, having lost four on the bounce across all competitions.
However, Stephen Bradley’s side was boosted this evening by the return of Mandroiu, Roberto Lopes and captain Ronan Finn to the starting 11.
Waterford – reinvigorated since Marc Bircham took the reins as manager in May – had suffered just one loss in their previous nine matches but had also suffered losses in all of their last 10 league games against Rovers.
And it was Waterford who were immediately under fire as the Hoops struck with a series of early attacks.
Nestling into a pocket of space at the back post, Mandroiu found himself unmarked and used his head to attack Dylan Watts's looping cross. However, Brian Murphy stopped the effort brilliantly with his feet.
Showing no signs of grogginess after his week in the stands, Mandroiu came even closer to scoring on seven minutes. Collecting a pass on the edge of the box, the former Bohemians man turned his marker and charged into the box before unleashing a furious shot which ricocheted off the crossbar.
With only eight minutes on the clock, the Blues were lucky to still be in the contest.
Recovering from those scares, Waterford managed to construct a defensive setup that limited the Champions to long shots for most of the rest of the half.
Cheered on by a sizeable travelling contingent, the visitors struggled to maintain possession throughout – their best chance of the first half came on the 44th minute when Anthony Woodsworth met Shane Griffin’s free-kick with a shot into the side netting.
As they often do, Rovers began the second half with renewed urgency. Gaffney wandered further right and found space to run into and deliver crosses into the box. Meanwhile, Aaron Greene, playing as a wing-back, did the same on the opposite side.
However, Murphy looked assured rushing from his line and collecting the majority of early crosses.
The hosts, however, kept coming; Richie Towell hit the post with a shot from the edge of the box, while Mandroiu headed into the side netting from a corner early in the half.
Fifteen minutes into the second half, Mandroiu finally had his first goal. The hosts were awarded a free-kick when Eddie Nolan’s arm was judged to have blocked Aidomo Emakhu’s shot at the edge of the box.
Both Towell and Mandroiu stood over the free-kick but it was the latter who fired it around the wall and into the far right corner.
The 22-year-old should have had another five minutes later when he found himself one-on-one with Murphy. His chipped shot only found the side netting.
The chances didn’t stop coming for him though, and with 10 minutes to go Mandroiu dispossessed the last defender, Greg Halford, before gently placing his eighth league goal past the onrushing Murphy.
As the clock ticked away, Waterford remained absent of ideas going forward. They fired long balls for substitute Junior Quitirna to chase but that ultimately remained futile against a resolute defence.
As the final whistle went, the Hoops found themselves three points clear atop the table, while the Blues were leaving Tallaght with yet another loss against the league leaders.
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Gannon, Roberto Lopes, Barry Cotter; Ronan Finn, Gary O’Neill (Conan Noonan, 88); Dylan Watts (Chris McCann, 83), Richie Towell, Danny Mandroiu; Rory Gaffney, Aaron Greene (Aidomo Emakhu, 56).
Waterford FC: Brian Murphy; Darragh Power, Eddie Nolan, Greg Halford, Cameron Evans (Jack Stafford, 82); John Martin, Niall O’Keeffe, Shane Griffin (Junior Quitirna, 66), Prince Mutswunguma (Isaac Tshipamba, 76), Phoenix Patterson; Anthony Wordsworth.
Referee: Rob Harvey.