Tom O'Connor reports from Oriel Park
Patrick Hoban scored an 89th-minute winner as Dundalk earned a 2-1 victory over a resolute Sligo Rovers to get Stephen Kenny’s men’s title challenge back on track.
Hoban had given the Lilywhites the lead from the penalty spot midway through the first half, but Rhys McCabe levelled for Sligo on the stroke of half time, also from 12 yards.
The home side began very much on the front foot as they sought to exert an early influence over their western visitors.
They could have led within the opening ten minutes as Brian Gartland found the ball at his feet eight yards out but the palm of netminder Mitchell Beeney swatted the ball away for a corner.
The on-loan Chelsea stopper was scrambling to his right a few moments later as a low drive from Michael Duffy skidded narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
Next to test the visiting keeper was Hoban, as his header had venom but lacked direction as it safely found Beeney’s waiting arms.
The Galwayman wasn’t to be denied for long, however, as he converted a penalty to break the deadlock in the 23rd minute.
It was as a result of a clumsy push on the revitalised Dylan Connolly by former Waterford centre back Patrick McClean, and Hoban drove his effort straight down the middle.
Ger Lyttle’s men didn’t lie down and put the Lilywhites under pressure soon after, with McClean unlucky not to find an equaliser, his close range effort being deflected behind for a corner.
The game ebbed and flowed until the half time break appeared on the horizon, Caolán McAleer went down under a challenge from the onrushing Gary Rogers but referee Tomás Connolly was unmoved and allowed play to continue.
He held a different view a few moments later as former Finn Harps winger McAleer beat Rogers to the ball following a short pass back from Stephen Folan.
The Meathman’s challenge earned him a yellow card and he was beaten by set-piece specialist Rhys McCabe, who found the centre of the net in a manner similar to Hoban’s earlier effort.
The second half saw Dundalk once more start brightly with a number of right-wing crosses, the most successful reaching Michael Duffy, but his header sailed narrowly wide.
Ballina native Ronan Murray almost provided Dundalk an Arsenal-type goal as great work from Hoban put Benson through.
He drew Beeney and slipped it to Murray but the ex-Ipswich Town man slipped the ball wide under pressure from the covering Kyle Callan-McFadden.
Sligo were energised by the miss and forced Rogers into a save via a looping header from substitute Adam Morgan.
It was another substitute, this time resplendent in the home strip, who was next to trouble the goalkeeper as Jamie McGrath bundled through the Rovers defence.
There he was denied by a brave block from Beeney – a save of which his father, former Leeds United stopper Mark, would have been proud.
As time started to run out on the home side’s search for a winner, Stephen Kenny scoured his bench for a matchwinner and brought on Marco Tagbajumi at the expense of Chris Shields.
However, it was another replacement who provided the inspiration as the talismanic Dane Massey found some space down the left and lifted a delightful cross into the penalty area, which was thumped to the net by the head of Patrick Hoban to cheers of relief throughout the stadium.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Seán Hoare, Brian Gartland, Stephen Folan (Dane Massey, 56), Dean Jarvis; Chris Shields (Marco Tagbajumi, 79), Robbie Benson; Dylan Connolly, Ronan Murray (Jamie McGrath, 66), Michael Duffy, Patrick Hoban.
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava, Gavin Smith, Krisztián Adorjan, Georgie Poynton.
Booked: Gary Rogers (44), Patrick Hoban (88), Dane Massey (90+1).
Sligo Rovers: Mitchell Beeney; Gary Boylan, John Mahon, Patrick McClean (Jack Keaney 44), Kyle Callan-McFadden, Regan Donelon; Caolán McAleer, David Cawley, Rhys McCabe, Raffaele Cretaro (Adam Wixted, 67); Gregory Moorehouse (Adam Morgan, 59).
Subs not used: Edward McGinty, Eduardo Pincelli, Callum Waters, Lewis Morrison.
Referee: Tomás Connolly.
Attendance: 2,134 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Patrick Hoban (Dundalk).