Patrick Hoban helped himself to a hat-trick as Dundalk continue to dream of what would be one of the most unlikely title wins in League of Ireland history following this 3-0 win over Bohemians at Oriel Park.
It has been a turnaround of epic proportions on the Carrick Road. 12 months to the day since Sean McCaffrey departed, leaving a financially crippled Dundalk two points off the bottom of the Premier Division table, the Lilywhites are now genuine title contenders.
Hoban, who is relishing his first campaign in the top flight, took his tally to 11 for the season in all competitions to move the Lilywhites into third place in the table, with just 13 games to play.
The PA system - quite ridiculously - blasted out Queen’s ‘We are the Champions’ at full-time. Premature and certainly cringeworthy it may have been but Kenny’s side are getting better by the week and possess as much quality as any of the other four genuine challengers.
Over 1800 supporters arrived on a night when beautiful, warm sunshine poured over Oriel Park and they were clapping before a ball was even kicked as current European boxing champion Amy Broadhurst was given a standing ovation for her exploits in Hungary last week.
The Oriel Park faithful also showed their appreciation of former goalkeeper Kevin Blount who passed away recently; the 1967 league winner remembered with 60 seconds of applause.
Kenny had to make a late change to his starting XI after Tiarnan Mulvenna - who scored the winner at the Brandywell in Dundalk’s previous outing - picked up a groin injury in the warm up. He was replaced by Darren Meenan.
Captain Stephen O’Donnell made a welcome return after missing the last four games through suspension and Mark Rossiter returned after missing the Derry City win through injury.
There was a first start for Fran McCaffrey. Jordan Keegan and Brian Gartland, two other recent signings, started on a strong looking bench and the three new faces have certainly added some depth to Kenny’s squad ahead of the run in.
Bohs arrived to Oriel looking for their first win in ten in the league and they frustrated the hosts early on.
Dundalk’s first opportunity of note came in the 16th minute. John Sullivan and Kurtis Byrne combined on the right side of the penalty area for Byrne to fire a snapshot across goal which Bohs goalkeeper Dean Delany did well to push away.
Delany was called into action again eighth minutes later. McCaffrey and Stephen O’Donnell did well on the edge of the box to set up Byrne for another effort but the Bohs goalkeeper made a fantastic save to to somehow tip the ball over the top.
The Bohs net-minder tainted his good work in the 27th minute as Dundalk took the lead. Dane Massey hung up a cross from the left and Hoban nipped in front of the advancing keeper to direct the ball into an empty net.
Aaron Callaghan’s side caused the home side a couple of problems from set-pieces but they created little from open play.
And it was Dundalk who were on the attack again on the half hour mark when they outnumbered the Bohs defence following a quick counter attack. Meenan and Hoban - who was ruthlessly taken out of it by Owen Heary - set up Byrne but his effort unusually lacked direction and went wide.
There were a few half scares in the Dundalk penalty area as half-time approached but Peter Cherrie was largely redundant for much of the opening 45 minutes.
Kenny’s men always looked the more likely and Dave Mulcahy had to make a wonderful last ditch tackle to stop McCaffrey from breaking clear on goal before Byrne saw a vicious free just fly over the top in first-half stoppage time.
The opening minute of the second-half saw Byrne and Delany renew their rivalry with the Bohs goalkeeper again denying the Dundalk No 11.
From then on it was one way traffic as Dundalk steamrolled their way to three points.
Hoban grabbed his second of the night in the 56th minute. Byrne was the provider, hooking a pass in behind the Bohs defence and the former Mervue United man looped a fine header over the helpless Delany.
Dundalk smelt blood and Andy Boyle put a free header wide in the 62nd minute before the goal of the night arrived four minutes later.
Hoban picked the ball up on the right and spotted Delany off his line before lashing an outstanding drive past the stranded keeper who could only help the ball on its way into the net.
Bohs’ night went from bad to worse with 12 minutes to go when Owen Heary saw red right in front of the home side’s dug-out.
The visitors - who were dreadful - are now just a single point ahead of basement side Shelbourne. At the other end, Dundalk continue to make ground on those at the summit.