Shamrock Rovers have the Dublin derby bragging rights and a three-point lead at the summit over St Pat’s after a brace by the returning Danny Mandriou helped the champions to seal a crucial victory.
Without the injured Graham Burke, Stephen Bradley restored Mandriou to the team for their craft and he buried the opener on the half-hour.
Despite John Mountney’s deflected free-kick levelling for Pat’s against the run of play approaching the break, goals from Roberto Lopes and another Mandriou effort gave the Hoops a deserved victory before 1,500 fans at Tallaght.
After such a big build-up to this top-of-the-table tussle, the only thing fluid in the opening 20 minutes was the driving rain.
Time after time, the abundance of classy midfielders ceded possession easily, punctuating any potential to probe. Even the ever-dependable Rovers captain Ronan Finn was wasteful, overhitting a pass straight into the hands of Vitezslav Jaros just as fellow Hoops were breaking the lines in anticipation of a threaded through ball. Their major recruit in this window, Richie Towell, also struggled to find any rhythm, as did St Pat’s dynamo Chris Forrester.
Robbie Benson, another Saint renowned for dissecting defences, was deployed as the most advanced cog in Stephen O’Donnell’s 3-4-3 system, not that he got much service to display his versatility during a cagey opening.
Their best outlet to probe was through the pace of Darragh Burns darting from deep. The youngster got in behind the Rovers defence on 27 minutes, only for his pullback to be cleared by Lee Grace.
It would prove a prelude for Rovers’ opener. Working the ball patiently from a throw-in on the right, a number of players were involved before Grace slipped in Dylan Watts on the edge of the box. His instinctive lay-off to the unmarked Mandriou allowed the midfielder to finish first-time into the bottom corner with a sweet strike.
That breakthrough seemed to energise Rovers, who should have added a couple more goals before the interval.
Having regained possession from the Pat’s tip-off, Rory Gaffney burst down the left, spotting his former Salford City colleague Towell free inside the box. His cross, however, lacked accuracy and Towell’s header on the stretch sailed over.
By contrast, Finn’s delivery on 36, having chased down what looked a lost cause near the corner flag, hung in the air perfectly for Mandriou to arrive. Still, his cushioned header veered wide with Jaros stuck to the spot.
Relentless Rovers sensed panic in the Pat’s backline and continued to press.
It required a superb last-ditch interception from James McClelland to deny Finn a tap-in while, moments later, Gaffney coaxed Paddy Barrett into a shirt-pull on the edge of the area that incurred a booking for a defender living dangerously.
Despite the pressure, Pat’s managed to stay within touching distance and rocked Rovers with a fortuitous equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
Alan Mannus appeared to be still organising his wall to deal with a free-kick 25 yards out when Mountney took his cue from referee Derek Tomney's whistle to unleash his effort.
The free took on a new life when deflecting off Dylan Watts, turning his back in the wall, deceiving the Rovers goalkeeper scrambling across his line.
It was a goal out of nowhere, one that didn’t deter Rovers from sealing a win which leaves them in the box seat.
That equaliser was the most Mannus had to worry about, for his outfield teammates soon reasserted their dominance.
Gaffney went close with a close-range effort blocked by Sam Bone but Lopes rose highest on the hour from a Watts’ near-post corner to guide his header into the far corner.
Aside from a sole Burns diagonal strike that squirted wide, Pat’s failed to offer much in attack.
Instead, they were caught for a third 19 minutes from the end. As with the first goal, Watts laid the ball on a plate for Mandriou, releasing his midfield partner to casually chip the advancing Jaros for his second.
A Mannus; J O’Brien, R Lopes, L Grace (S Kavanagh 75); R Finn (S Gannon 78), D Watts (S Hoare 83), G O’Neill, D Mandriou (A Greene 83), L Scales; R Towell; R Gaffney.
V Jaros; S Bone (K Nwoko 87), P Barrett (R Coughlan 58), L Desmond; J Mountney, C Forrester, A Lewis (N Melvin-Lambert 75), J McClelland; D Burns, R Benson, B King (B McCormack 75).
Derek Tomney (Dublin).