Shamrock Rovers need just eight more points to clinch the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title after a comfortable victory over an understrength Dundalk at Oriel Park.
Three goals in eight minutes before the break from Jack Byrne, a David McMillan own goal, and an Aaron McEneff penalty pretty much wrapped up the win for Stephen Bradley’s side with Byrne adding a second four minutes from the end to extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points with just five matches to play.
Dundalk, coming into the game on the back of their penalty shoot-out victory away to Moldovan champions Sheriff Tiraspol 72 hours earlier, made 10 changes to their side with one eye on Thursday’s Europa League play-off game against KÍ Klaksvik at the Aviva Stadium. Captain Chris Shields was the sole survivor for Filippo Giovagnoli’s men as he misses the clash with the Faroese side due to suspension.
The result ends the Louth men’s 26 match unbeaten run at home - a club record - stretching back to their 2-1 defeat against the Hoops in August 2018. It was also their heaviest league defeat since losing 5-0 to Kilkenny 15 years ago.
Rovers went home the happiest but if Dundalk make the group stages on Thursday they may yet have the last laugh.
The visitors were largely on top from the off with Aaron McCarey doing well to deny Ronan Finn on 16 minutes.
Dundalk did manage to fashion a good opening of their own on 31 minutes when Nathan Oduwa burst up the left past Lee Grace before pulling back to McMillan but he was denied by a smart stop from Alan Mannus.
Within five minutes Rovers had the lead. Finn found space on the right to pull back to Byrne, who despite fluffing his initial attempt, still had the time to scuff the ball home despite the efforts of McCarey and Shields.
They then doubled their advantage on 41 minutes when a Byrne corner saw Scales get away from Will Patching with his header finding its way to the net off the unlucky McMillan.
The game was then effectively over as a contest on 44 minutes when Rovers were awarded a penalty after Patching was adjudged to have pulled back Lee Grace from another Byrne corner. McEneff then stepped up to slot the resultant spot-kick past McCarey to leave it 3-0 at half-time.
The second half was largely a dead rubber affair but Rovers would complete their win six minutes from the end when Byrne rounded McCarey wide on the left before firing to an empty net from an acute angle.
McCarey; Quinn (Mountney 59), Shields, Boyle, Dummigan; Gatt, Patching (Adedokun 83); Kelly (Wynne 70), Flores, Oduwa; McMillan (Colovic 59). Subs not used: Corcoran, Traynor, Hanratty.
Mannus; Finn (Marshall 82), O’Brien, Scales, Grace, Farrugia (S Kavanagh 82); O’Neill, Byrne, McEneff; Burke (Watts 76); Greene (Williams 86). Subs not used: Pohls, Lafferty, Oluwa.
Rob Harvey (Dublin).