With the visitors’ Kevin Devaney having capped a Sligo fightback from 2-0 down to level with 15 minutes left, John Caulfield’s men’s character was called into question.
Having lost to Dundalk and then drawn with Bohemians, they were facing the prospect of being six points behind Dundalk with a game more played. When it was most required, O’Sullivan provided a moment of joy for the majority of the 2,882 crowd.
“I’m delighted with the points,” Caulfield said.
“We went through a difficult week and some of the players’ confidence was down. In the first half, some of our passing and movement was excellent and Sligo were on the ropes but we left them back into it before half-time.
Caulfield made four changes. Alan Bennett, who had taken over the captaincy from the already injured John Dunleavy, was injured in that game so Dan Murray came in.
Kevin O’Connor came in for Ross Gaynor at left-back while Kieran Djilali replaced Billy Dennehy on the right wing and Gavan Holohan was selected ahead of Garry Buckley in the number 10 role.
The Kilkenny man was at the heart of almost everything the hosts did going forward in the first half, though the opening goal — inside 28 seconds, in contrast to Gaynor’s 96th-minute equaliser at the Showgrounds in the opening round of games — came from a direct source. When Murray’s clearance evaded the Sligo defence, Sheppard was able to nip in behind and slot the ball past Richard Brush.
Sheppard had the bit between his teeth. On 11 minutes, he took a Holohan pass and cut in from the left, only denied by a deflection. Only a minute later, it was Holohan who was fouled for a penalty after a nice sidestep to fool John Russell. Sheppard stepped up, but Brush guessed correctly and saved well, diving to his right.
Despite the setback, City continued to make the running. O’Sullivan’s header was straight at Brush after a nice Djilali cross but on the half-hour the second goal came.
O’Sullivan was at the move’s genesis as he backheeled into Holohan’s path. Sheppard’s run dragged the defence out of place as Holohan drove at them and he waited for Liam Miller to make ground before playing it to him.
Though the former international’s shot came back off the post, it fell directly to Sheppard to make it 2-0.
Seven minutes before half-time, Sligo found a way back into it with their first real attack as Russell got enough of a touch on Steven Beattie’s low cross to divert it past Mark McNulty.
City’s lacked sparkle early in the second half. They didn’t register a real chance until 13 minutes in, when Holohan’s header hit the bar.
Sligo’s equaliser came on 75 minutes as Russell sent a corner over from the right and, though Murray’s header backwards was kept out by McNulty, Devaney prodded home.
Rob Lehane and Danny Morrissey were sprung from the bench by City but Sligo could have stolen it as Devaney was put through with three minutes left. McNulty stood up well to his shot and the importance of that was magnified as O’Sullivan had the vital say at the other end, his low shot from 15 yards.
McNulty; Kavanagh, Murray, D Dennehy, O’Connor; Healy, Miller; Djilali (B Dennehy 70), Holohan (Morrissey 82), Sheppard (Lehane 85); O’Sullivan.
Brush; Keane (Cretaro 90), Boylan, Folan, Dykes (Ledwith half-time); Cawley, Wearen; Beattie, Russell, Puri (Devaney 70); Corcoran.
R Harvey (Dublin).