Shamrock Rovers kept clear daylight between themselves and title chasers Derry City after the Tallaght side saw off Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds with relative ease.
Dan Cleary, Dylan Watts and Graham Burke netted for the Hoops ahead of their trip to Norway to take on Molde in the Europa Conference League on Thursday next. While Nando Pijnaker scrambled home Sligo's consolation in the second half, his first goal for the club.
The result leaves the Dubliners five points clear with five games remaining.
Sligo boss John Russell made four changes from their defeat to Derry two and a half weeks ago, with skipper David Cawley, Max Mata and Colm Horgan returning. While veteran goalkeeper Richard Brush appeared between the sticks for just the fourth time this term.
Ronan Finn the champions’ only change from their victory over UCD the Monday previous.
Well in charge against a meagre Sligo showing in the opening half, Stephen Bradley’s side probably should have been further ahead than the two goals that separated the sides at the break.
There were chances for Gaffney and Burke, both carved from defensive errors, before the Hoops made their dominance count on the quarter hour when Cleary nodded home Sean Kavanagh’s cross.
Gaffney blasted wide after a Shane Blaney mishap five minutes later, while the visitors owed their second to some Jack Byrne brilliance seven minutes from the interval.
The playmaker splitting the heart of both the Sligo midfield and defence with a clever ball into the path of Watts who added a clinical finish.
The struggling hosts did have a half chance courtesy of a speculative Aidan Keena shot from long range.
While referee Paul McLaughlin was met with a chorus of boos on his return to the dressing room at the break after he ignored shouts from the Sligo players for a penalty. The home side claiming Mata’s shot from a Frank Liivak cross was handled on the line.
Brush had to come wide and close the angle to deny Burke ten minutes into the second half after Pijnaker got his attempted lay-off all wrong. While the league leaders went within a whisker of a third when Burke fizzed his drive narrowly past the post with Brush well beaten.
A Hoops third was inevitable and it arrived on 70 minutes when Sligo allowed Gaffney’s ball all the way through to Burke who was left with a simple tap-in at the back stick.
The Connacht side did salvage something from the night when Pijnaker turned home Kailin Barlow’s cross from the left.
Sligo Rovers: Richard Brush; Colm Horgan, Shane Blaney, Nando Pijnaker, Paddy Kirk; Adam McDonnell (Kailan Barlow 63), David Cawley (Robbie Burton HT), Greg Bolger (Niall Morahan 63); Frank Liivak (Karl O’Sullivan 72); Aidan Keena, Max Mata (Will Fitzgerald 63).
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Sean Gannon (Sean Hoare 74), Daniel Cleary, Lee Grace; Ronan Finn (Neil Farrugia 84), Sean Kavanagh (Andy Lyons 71); Dylan Watts, Jack Byrne (Viktor Serdenyuk 84), Gary O’Neill; Graham Burke (Aaron Greene 71); Rory Gaffney.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin