Dundalk enhanced their title claims with a ruthless second-half show of strength as Shamrock Rovers saw their sorry season sink into the abyss.
Chants of ‘We Want Bradley Out’ pieced the night sky on the whistle while a large banner reading ‘It’s Not Working Out, Enough Is Enough’ heaped even more pressure on the Hoops boss.
Stephen Bradley was loathe to stand in the way of Graham Burke potentially starting Ireland’s game against USA tonight.
And, according to Martin O’Neill yesterday, it was his decision to allow the forward miss this game against one of their biggest rivals – even if the league table doesn’t suggest it.
Well, in his absence, Rovers folded like a cheap tent although so clinical were Dundalk after the break you suspect Burke’s presence wouldn’t have spared the Hoops.
Dan Carr put Rovers ahead after four minutes but Pat Hoban equalised before half-time while Dan Cleary and Dane Massey sealed the points after the restart.
Roberto Lopes pulled one back to give Rovers hope but two Robbie Benson goals in six minutes had the home fans spilling out the gates well before time.
Benson said: “It was a great win, especially after the start we had. We could have been two or three down after 15 minutes, that’s not an exaggeration.”
After playing second fiddle to Cork City last season, the Lilywhites are looking the real deal once again having rediscovered their devastating swagger.
A game that appeared to be slipping away from them in the opening half hour was flipped on its head in the blink of an eye and Rovers fell apart under the pressure.
And yet, for 37 minutes the game had an entirely different outlook as Carr fired Rovers into a fourth minute lead from close range.
Dundalk were all at sea in those opening exchanges. Joel Coustrain – in for Burke – caused Massey headaches down the right.
And team-mates fed off his tenacious approach in that opening half. Unfortunately for Rovers, he wouldn’t be the only one in their ranks to go off the boil after the break.
Quite how Lopes wasn’t sent off for his crunching tackle on Jamie McGrath is anyone’s guess – having chopped the Dundalk playmaker in half.
While Dundalk lacked punch in attack early on, their fortunes changed midway through the half when Carr – a real handful – was forced off with an injury.
Stephen Kenny’s charges upped the ante after his withdrawal and equalised seven minutes before the break with Hoban cooly heading home Michael Duffy’s clever dink.
But whatever mojo Rovers had early in the game evaporated as Dundalk hit the turbo boosters after the break.
Cleary headed them in front on the hour from a Benson free and less than four minutes later, Massey beat Tomer Chencinski all too easily from 25-yards.
Lopes gave Rovers a lifeline when tapping home close in after Joel Coustrain’s strike thundered off the crossbar.
And yet it counted for little as Benson bagged a sweet six-minute double to finish off Rovers and cement Dundalk’s standing at the top of the table.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Chencinski; Boyle, Lopes, Grace, Byrne; G Bolger, A Bolger (B Kavanagh) ; Coustrain, Finn (McAllister 45), Kavanagh; Carr (Shaw 25)
DUNDALK: Rogers; Hoare, Gartland, Cleary, Massey; Shields, Benson; Connolly (Adorjan 67), McGrath (Chvedukas 87), Duffy; Hoban (Tagbajumi 88).
Referee: B Connolly.