In fact, their supporters will wonder why they haven’t produced this sort of urgent performance more often this season, particularly away from home, as Christy Fagan’s early goal gave them all three points.
Dundalk could have effectively reduced the race to two teams with victory at Richmond Park, but this result could mean a more cluttered climax. With 110 goals scored between them in the league this season, this was set up to be a pulsating tie, even if the crowd of 1,653 inside Richmond Park was disappointing considering the sides involved.
St Pat’s didn’t hang around against the side threatening to dethrone them, going ahead inside two minutes. It was the twin dangers of Conan Byrne and Fagan, with 27 league goals between them prior to this game, who combined. Byrne found space on the right to cross for Fagan and, with help from Brian Gartland’s failed attempted clearance, the striker shifted the ball to his left foot and calmly finished from close range for his 17th league goal of the season.
Dundalk’s response was more than a little crude, Ruaidhri Higgins and winger Daryl Horgan going into the book for dangerous lunges.
With Greg Bolger vigilant in front of his defence, Liam Buckley’s side continued to play the slicker, more incisive football. Chris Forrester’s vicious shot from the left bounced off Peter Cherrie, who watched as the ball looped past the far post, before Byrne cut in from the right and saw his low effort well gathered.
With Cherrie far the busier of the keepers, Richie Towell should perhaps have tested Brendan Clarke but after a scramble following Horgan’s dangerous cross, the midfielder fired well over.
Pat’s threatened again immediately after the break when Byrne raced on toForrester’s pass but Cherrie was able to beat the ball away at his near post.
Dundalk made a double substitution on 56 minutes and finally started to mount some sustained pressure, pushing Pat’s back deep in their half.
After several balls into the box caused hesitancy in a previously comfortable home defence, Patrick Hoban swivelled on a loose ball in the box but could only hook his effort over the bar.
With Dundalk continuing to press, they were beginning to leave gaps at the back.
Fagan latched on to another mistake from Gartland to scurry forward and tee up Byrne but the winger fired his left-footed shot just over the bar.
The Saints had clearly regained their composure and should have doubled their lead on 74 minutes.
Forrester picked out Fagan’s replacement Mark Quigley but his effort under no pressure lacked any conviction when he really should have put the ball either side of Cherrie.
At the other end, Hoban just failed to make contact with David McMillan’s cross before Dane Massey’s late header skimmed the bar.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: B Clarke; G O’Brien, S Hoare, K Browne, I Bermingham (A Greene, 88); K Fahey, G Bolger, K Brennan (C McCormack 78); C Byrne, C Fagan (M Quigley 73), C Forrester.
DUNDALK: P Cherrie; S Gannon, A Boyle, B Gartland, D Massey; R Higgins (D McMillan, 56), A Boyle; J Mountney (D McDermott, 56), R Towell, D Horgan; P Hoban (K Byrne, 84).
Referee: P McLaughlin (Donegal)