Limerick FC moved four points clear at the top of the Airtricity League First Division with two games to play thanks to a hard fought win over Athlone Town at Jackman Park.
The winning goal came barely five minutes from time and the visitors could count themselves unlucky not to eke out a share of the spoils.
It looked as if Waterford United in second place were going to be handed a lifeline as Athlone more than held their own, but the title is all but secured for the Shannonsiders now.
A Seán Brosnan strike was enough to see Limerick put one hand on the First Division trophy as the Blues scraped past Town.
The rain sodden conditions could probably be partly to blame for what had been a scrappy fixture where there were numerous chances but also bad finishing.
Until the goal eventually arrived, it was Town who had come closest to scoring when Mark Sherlock took aim and curled a beautiful effort towards the top corner from the edge of the box only to be denied by the woodwork shortly before half time.
When the goal eventually came it was thanks to Limerick’s youth policy as Brosnan smashed the ball home from 12 yards out. The young Castleisland native miscontrolled at first with his right foot, but the ball fell kindly to his left and from there, he made no mistake. The goal led to pandemonium on the pitch and in the terraces as the home side held out to all put clinch their place in next season’s Premier Division.
Waterford United did however maintain the pressure at the top and stay in the hunt for automatic promotion mathematically at least with a 2-1 win over Finn Harps at Ballyboofey.
A pair of majestic free-kicks from talisman Gary Dempsey ended Harps’ ten-game unbeaten run.
The midfielder gave a master-class with two beauties right out of the top drawer either side of half-time and although Kevin McHugh responded for the home side just before the hour mark, the visitors held out for their fourth win in a row as they cut the gap on leaders Limerick to four points with two games remaining.
Meanwhile, Longford Town‘s hopes of challenging for promotion ended as they suffered a shock 1-2 home defeat to bottom of the table SD Galway at Flancare Park.
Eoin Curran put the visitors 2-0 up with a goal early in each half and although Alan Kirby responded with a goal midway through the second half, the Flancare men couldn’t force an equalizer from a game where only a win would have kept their promotion hopes alive as they now lie five points behind (and with a significantly inferior goal difference to) second placed Waterford with two games to play.
Elsewhere, Mervue United played out a scoreless draw with Wexford Youths at Fahy’s Field.