Daniel Mandroiu showed his class when it mattered most to extend Shamrock Rovers’ lead at the top of the Premier Division to five points.
The Republic of Ireland Under-21 international struck a 92nd-minute winner against St Patrick’s Athletic to keep their nearest challengers at arm’s length and tighten their grip on the title.
Mandroiu pounced on a heavy touch from Lee Desmond and showed pace, and stamina, to drive into the box and finish neatly across the face of goal.
It is the second injury-time winner the young Dubliner has found for his side this season as Rovers again set the bar.
And again they had to do it by coming from behind.
Pat’s got off to the perfect start after just five minutes when Mandroiu was robbed of possession near the right side of his own box.
A cross from full-back John Mountney was deflected into the path of Chris Forrester and he struck his shot into the ground with the bounce beating goalkeeper Alan Mannus into the bottom right corner.
Pat’s were flying and the champions stunned, but not for long. Bit by bit they regained control with neat passages of play in midfield causing their opponents all kinds of problems.
There wasn’t much in the way of end product, however, and when striker Rory Gaffney fluffed a shot low into the legs of Vitezslav Jaros after being put through on goal after 20 minutes it looked as if maybe it would be one of those days.
That feeling didn’t last long.
Jaros made a couple of simple handling errors with shots that came his way and was lucky not to be punished. He didn’t get away it when Graham Burke rifled in at the near post from just outside the box on the left four minutes before the break.
It was a sloppy goal to concede but no less than Rovers deserved, and Burke certainly seemed to enjoy it as he turned to former Ireland manager – and Pat’s loyalist - Brian Kerr on the Camac terrace and cupped his ears.
The tempo was relentless, Rovers dealing with it better as the Pat’s midfield was unable to get to grips with the challenge posed.
Burke was shown a yellow just after his goal for a rash foul on Billy King, the third of the game after bookings apiece for Jamie Lennon and Liam Scales, and the fiery nature was not contained to the pitch.
St Pat’s head coach Stephen O’Donnell and Rovers assistant Glen Cronin were also cautioned for verbals on the touchline.
Even at this stage of the season, this felt like a fixture that meant something. Not just because it’s a Dublin derby, but these are the sides that have set the early pace with Sligo Rovers not far off.
Rovers go five clear at the top with this win and that League of Ireland unbeaten record now extends to 32 games.
For Pat’s, still very much a work in progress, this was a first defeat of a campaign in which they look best equipped to make this a title race.
They showed their resilience in the second half by wrestling the initiative back from Stephen Bradley’s side but Rovers showed their class to pilfer the points with Mandroiu’s superb run and close-range finish down the right side.
Jaros; Mountney, Bone (Melvin-Lambert 93), Desmond, Bermingham (c) (Griffin HT); King, Lennon, Lewis (McClelland 68) (McCormack 77); Forrester; Coughlan, Smith.
Mannus; O’Brien (Lopes 49), Hoare, Grace, Finn (c) (McCann 68), Watts, O’Neill, Mandroiu, Scales; Burke (Gannon 68), Gaffney (Williams 87).