A Runar Hauge penalty and a Dane Massey own goal proved decisive as Dundalk bounced back to winning ways with victory over neighbours Drogheda United in the Louth derby at Casey's Field.
Stephen O’Donnell’s side, who bowed out of the FAI Cup to First Division side Waterford in their last outing, hadn’t won in their previous four league matches, dating back to the 1-0 win away to Bohemians at Dalymount Park on 12 August.
However, two goals in quick succession before the break saw them get their bid for European qualification back on track as they opened up a five-point lead over fourth-placed St Patrick’s Athletic, who have a game in hand away to Shelbourne on Monday.
Kevin Doherty’s Drogheda had enjoyed the better opening to the game but Hauge’s penalty on 40 minutes was a turning point before Massey turned through his own net in stoppage time at the end of the first half to effectively decide the game.
The visitors started on top, with Dean Williams firing over in the opening 14 seconds before being denied what looked a certain goal in the eighth minute when Darragh Leahy blocked on the line after almost chesting the ball into his own net.
After losing Evan Weir to injury, Drogheda went close again on 35 minutes when a short corner routine saw Darragh Markey pick out Williams at the back post only for the striker to volley into the side-netting.
Dundalk then took the lead against the run of play five minutes later when Hauge slotted home a penalty after being fouled in the box by Dayle Rooney.
The home side then doubled their lead in fortuitous fashion in the first minute of stoppage time when Greg Sloggett’s drilled cross from the came off Lilywhite legend Massey to creep past Colin McCabe at his near post.
There were few chances in the second half, with Andrew Quinn blocking efforts from Ryan O’Kane and Joe Adams, and John Martin heading just over from a John Mountney corner as Dundalk looked to put the game to bed.
Drogheda also had spells of pressure, with four corners in quick succession, but substitute Chris Lyons was unable to turn the best of their chances past Nathan Shepperd when he met one of them with 17 minutes remaining, scuffing into the keeper’s arms from close range.
O’Kane had another good opening for the hosts four minutes later after being slipped through by Joe Adams but McCabe was sharp off his line to deny the teenager his first league goal for his hometown club.
There were nine minutes of stoppage time added at the end due to a spectator needing medical attention and it ended on a sour note for Drogheda as substitute Ryan Brenann was shown a straight red card for an off-the-ball incident.
Despite the numerical advantage Dundalk couldn’t add to their lead, with Steven Bradley going close twice either side of an audacious Keith Ward effort from inside his own half that McCabe had to claw over.
Dundalk: Nathan Shepperd; John Mountney, Sam Bone, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Greg Sloggett (Robbie Benson 63), Alfie Lewis; Runar Hauge (Steven Bradley 59), Joe Adams (Keith Ward 95), Ryan O’Kane; John Martin (David McMillan 95).
Drogheda Utd: Colin McCabe; Darragh Nugent, Andrew Quinn, Keith Cowan, Dane Massey, Evan Weir (Dayle Rooney 25); Adam Foley (Ryan Brennan 64), Gary Deegan, Darragh Noone (Luke Heeney 64), Darragh Markey (Dylan Grimes 64); Dean Williams (Chris Lyons 67).
Referee: John McLoughlin (Roscommon).