Drogheda United produced the shock of the season so far as they condemned ten-man Shamrock Rovers to defeat at Head In The Game Park courtesy of Ryan Brennan's first-half goal.
Defeat for Derry City at the Showgrounds means no life has been breathed into the title race as a result of this reverse. But Stephen Bradley will hardly be happy that his side mustered very little having trailed for over an hour of the contest.
The champions had an extra day to prepare too, having dispatched UCD with ease last Thursday evening.
Brennan, a former Rovers player, found the net eight minutes before the interval. It was completely against the run of play, not that the home faithful cared too much about that.
Rovers were without the suspended Roberto Lopes – with Lee Grace returning - but Jack Byrne passed fit after picking up a knock in the win against UCD last Thursday.
United had to make do without on-loan Darragh Nugent who couldn’t play against his parent club. Centre-back Sean Roughan was serving a one-game ban after his dismissal in Friday’s win over Finn Harps.
Brennan was making only his fourth start of a season disrupted by injury early on.
The Drogs victory three days earlier was all the more vital considering they welcomed the in-form champions for the concluding part of a busy double-fixture weekend. Now, six from six leaves them looking up the table as opposed to nervously over their shoulder.
United lost captain Dane Massey inside 10 minutes in a further depletion of their defensive stock. That change required an extensive reshuffle by boss Kevin Doherty.
Midfielders Georgie Poynton and Luke Heeney were thrust into unfamiliar roles at left back and right back respectively, while Evan Weir shifted inside to partner 36-year-old Keith Cowan.
However, Rovers were unable to immediately capitalise. Rory Gaffney fired wide in the opening exchanges before Barry Cotter headed a corner off target. Danny Mandroiu, with six goals in six games, forced a stunning save from Sam Long.
The forward’s curling free kick was bound for the top corner only for the on-loan Lincoln City goalkeeper to touch around the post at full stretch. His reputation grows with every passing game, win, lose or draw for United.
The Scottish Under-21 stopper again came to Drogheda’s rescue on 25 minutes. Andy Lyons burst past Luke Heeney on the inside and found Dylan Watts. His pass put Mandroiu through but Long sped off his line and saved superbly with his legs.
Brennan’s goal arrived nine minutes before half-time and was Drogheda’s first genuine opportunity in the game as Dayle Rooney produced the cross and ex-Hoop Brennan arrived in timely fashion to direct a header low past Alan Mannus.
Matters worsened for the visitors when Jack Byrne succumbed to injury minutes later. The circumstances might have been getting to the league leaders. Substitute Ronan Finn was booked for complaints made to the fourth official while Graham Burke was carded within four minutes of his introduction.
The closest Rovers came in the early stages of the second half was when Sean Hoare powered a header wide from a corner. The home side valiantly put their bodies in front of shots at will.
Chances were few and far between from that point onwards. Mandroiu turned and skewed a shot wide as Rovers pressed inefficiently for an equaliser. He was shown a second yellow card with ten minutes of normal time to play.
There was a controversial incident towards the end when the game was briefly halted due to assistant referee Allen Lynch bringing attention to objects thrown in his direction, while standing in front of the stand housing the travelling supporters.
Drogheda United: Sam Long; Georgie Poynton, Keith Cowan, Dane Massey (Dayle Rooney 9), Evan Weir; Luke Heeney, Gary Deegan, James Clarke, Ryan Brennan (Dean Williams, 86); Dylan Grimes; Chris Lyons (Adam Foley, 78).
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Lee Grace; Barry Cotter (Gary O’Neill, 61), Richie Towell (Aaron Greene, 61), Dylan Watts, Andy Lyons; Jack Byrne (Graham Burke, 41); Danny Mandroiu, Rory Gaffney (Aidomo Emakhu, 70).
Referee: Ray Matthews