Well-taken goals from Ryan De Vries and Johnny Kenny clinically punished defensive errors while Adam McDonnell added a third as Sligo Rovers secured their place in the Europa Conference League next summer following a 3-0 win over St Pat's at Richmond Park.
After a deflating mid-season looked like derailing their hopes, three successive wins has seen Liam Buckley’s side over the line on a frustrating night for FAI Cup finalists St Pat’s who were looking to cement second place.
As they did for Monday’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Bohemians, St Pat’s rotated their squad with six changes, team manager Alan Mathews taking full charge in the absence of head coach Stephen O’Donnell who, due to feeling unwell during the afternoon, stayed at home as a precaution.
It wouldn't have been happy viewing as O’Donnell saw his side concede a dreadful opening goal on 11 minutes before another error brought the concession of a second just before the interval. McDonnell’s free-kick after the break sealed the points.
With Mark Byrne replacing Walter Figueira in Sligo's only change from their win, courtesy of a stoppage time goal, over relegated Longford Town last time out, Buckley’s side started on the front foot, McDonnell bringing a comfortable save from Vitezslav Jaros inside two minutes.
But Saints' Czech Republic U21 goalkeeper could do little to prevent Sligo punishing reckless play by the home side to soon take the lead.
Under no pressure at all, Jamie Lennon’s attempted pass to Jak Hickman was way short, allowing De Vries to pounce.
The South African advanced, got his head up, and curled a delightful right-footed shot to the top corner of Jaros’ net for a wonderful third goal of the season.
St Pat’s reacted well, almost levelling from their first corner of the game a minute later.
Chris Forrester’s whipped delivery saw Lee Desmond spin off the near post to get a flick header to the ball which Ed McGinty did well to palm over the top.
Lennon then shot off target with a well-struck drive from distance before Darragh Burns worked McGinty with a curling shot following Robbie Benson’s sublime volleyed pass as St Pat’s chased an equaliser.
Pick that one out! Ryan De Vries gives Europe-chasing Sligo the lead with a stunning strike. Live now on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player https://t.co/2W5kFtUgZE. pic.twitter.com/dF0jTTVnmi— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) November 5, 2021
But for McGinty again it might have arrived on 38 minutes, home skipper Ian Bermingham linking with Lennon to force the Sligo goalkeeper to push the shot round a post.
From the resulting short corner, Burns’ dinked cross found Desmond whose header was deflected over.
Despite that promising pressure, home hearts sank as further poor defending at the other end gifted Sligo another goal on 42 minutes.
Jaros failed to gather Kenny’s downward header as it bounced up from Robbie McCourt’s cross. The 18-year-old reacted superbly to flick the loose ball past the stranded Jaros to the net for his 10th league goal of the season.
With Matty Smith and Billy on for the second half, St Pat’s thought they were back in the game within two minutes only for a linesman’s flag to rule out Burns' header.
Sligo Rovers manager Liam Buckley gave his reaction to his side being on the cusp of European football after their 3-0 win over St Pat's (qualification was confirmed moments later following Derry's draw with Finn Harps). pic.twitter.com/PIRmNbAqgi— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) November 5, 2021
Frantic defending then saw Lewis Banks block a shot from Benson with Forrester completely missing his kick dead in front of goal as St Pat’s maintained the pressure.
Benson came closest to getting them back into the game, his 73rd minute header from King’s cross flashing agonisingly wide of a post.
Exposed on the counter, Jaros saved well one-on-one from Andre Wright before McDonnell added Sligo’s third goal in the first minute of stoppage time when his free kick sailed across to enter the net off the far post.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Vitzslav Jaros; Jak Hickman (Sam Bone 66), Lee Desmond, Paddy Barrett (Jay McClelland 82), Ian Bermingham; Jamie Lennon (Nahum Melvin-Lambert 66); Darragh Burns, Alfie Lewis (Billy King ht), Chris Forrester, Robbie Benson; Ronan Coughlan (Matty Smith ht).
Sligo Rovers: Ed McGinty; Lewis Banks, John Mahon, Garry Buckley, Robbie McCourt; Mark Byrne (Colm Horgan 79), Greg Bolger (Niall Morahan 69), Adam McDonnell, Ryan De Vries (Walter Figueira 87); Johnny Kenny (Romeo Parkes 79), Andre Wright.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan).