A last minute victory in Coleraine, followed by a win over bogey side Limerick. If Stephen Kenny demanded a response from his players after the derby defeat against Drogheda United, then they have certainly delivered.
Kurtis Byrne’s 77th minute goal secured the three points against Limerick but it will be the performance - against a side who Dundalk failed to beat in the league on three occasions last season - that will have given Kenny huge satisfaction.
One down - thanks to a horrendous mistake by Peter Cherrie - Dundalk continued to attack and they got their reward when Patrick Hoban grabbed his third goal in as many games before the break.
Rory Gaffney’s 47th minute chance apart, it was one way traffic in the second-half and Dundalk, playing an orthodox 4-4-2 system with pace and width provided by Darren Meenan and Daryl Horgan on the flanks, showcased their best football of the campaign to date.
Such was their dominance in the final third, it would have been a travesty if they had not won this game. Byrne, who was called from the bench just nine minutes earlier, ensured the night ended with the right result.
A clean sheet in Coleraine was followed by another solid defensive showing here. The appearance of Brian Gartland went a long way to making sure of that. His return to the starting XI - in place of Chris Shields - was one of two changes to the Dundalk side that beat Coleraine in the Setanta Cup four nights earlier. Horgan was the other inclusion, coming in for John Mountney on the right.
Limerick arrived with a host of first choice players missing. In fact, only four of the side that beat Dundalk 2-1 in the corresponding game in March - Patrick Nzuzi, Stephen Folan, Jason Hughes and Gaffney - were named in Stuart Taylor’s starting XI.
Limerick, with Nzuzi and Shane Tracy patrolling in front of their back four, frustrated the home support early on with fruitful spells of possession and they took the lead after just 15 minutes.
Nothing looked on when Tracy’s 40-yard, inswinging free-kick headed towards Cherrie but a fatal lapse of concentration set in and the Scot inexplicably let the ball slip from his grasp to see it carry over the line.
That goal certainly didn’t lighten the impatient mood of the home support but they were given encouragement in the 19th minute when a well worked move, involving Stephen O’Donnell and Richie Towell ended with Shane Cusack making a good stop with his legs to deny David McMillan.
Dundalk, and Mark Rossiter in particular, showed more urgency as the half wore on and Meenan should have done better with a free header at the far post seven minutes later.
The spotlight was firmly on Cherrie’s every move after his early mistake and he looked shaky again just shy of the half hour mark when he sliced Gartland’s back pass target into touch. It was no surprise, then, that Tracy went for goal again with another effort from a long way out soon after. This time, Cherrie gathered safely.
From then on, it was Dundalk who pressed. Horgan saw a half-volley curl away from Cusack’s right hand post and Andy Boyle headed over with an instinctive effort after Dane Massey had directed Meenan’s pinged corner towards the back post.
The waves of pressure grew incessant and it was no surprise when Dundalk restored parity six minutes before the break. Again, it was a goalkeeping error that led to the goal with Cusack badly misguiding Rossiter’s deep cross to leave Hoban with a simple header. 1-1; relief was tangible in Oriel at the break.
The second-half was just two minutes old when Limerick bypassed a great opportunity to go back in front. A rare slip by Gartland allowed Gaffney to take possession and burst through on goal. The Limerick striker scored five of his nine goals last term against the Lilywhites but he failed to reproduce here with Cherrie redeeming himself by making a good save with his feet.
The let off injected fresh impetus into Dundalk and Kenny, as he did in Coleraine four nights earlier, acted as ball boy on a number of occasions as his team tried to build a head of steam.
Horgan ‘shinned’ another Rossiter cross wide in the 56th minute when it seemed easier to score and Hoban then outmuscled the Lims goalkeeper in the penalty area only to see the excellent Folan clear the return ball into the six-yard box.
Rossiter then shot narrowly wide with McMillan sniffing for a touch. Any sort of deflection from the striker would have taken the ball past Cusack.
The Lilywhites momentum was checked soon after when Rossiter - haring after a McMillan pass - pulled up with a hamstring injury. The experienced defender, Dundalk’s best player up to the point, limped off to be replaced by Sean Gannon.
Willed on by the crowd, Dundalk kept pushing at a high tempo and they got their reward with just 13 minutes to play. Meenan was the instigator, winning a fifty fifty tackle with Tracy in the middle of the park to send Hoban through on the inside right. His effort was well saved by Cusack but Byrne was on hand to meet the dropping ball and head past the covering Tony Whithead to put Dundalk in the driving seat.
The Lilywhites refused to sit on their lead and Horgan and Hoban should have added to the score before Towell hit the post with an audacious half-volley late on.
Referee Paul McLaughlin’s full-time whistle was greeted by loud cheers. After a false start in United Park, Dundalk have hit the accelerator and are well and truly up and running.