Cork City did very well to come back from the blow of conceding early to a Richie Towell penalty through Mark O’Sullivan’s first-half equaliser to keep the gap between the sides at six points.
City boss John Caulfield said afterwards he was “disappointed” to have been sent from the dug-out in the first half for protesting what he alleged was a Towell dive while he also insisted the penalty given when Alan Bennett and Brian Gartland appeared to wrestle in the box, should have been a free out for Cork.
Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny, for his part, described both claims as “nonsense”.
But, overall, the visiting manager was happy enough with the outcome.
“It was a great game, hell for leather, from two totally committed top of the table sides. The penalty knocked us back a bit but the spirit of the side showed through in the way we bounced back. Overall, I think a draw was a fair result.”
On the downside for City, Gavan Holohan, who left the ground on crutches, and John Dunleavy, forced off with a hip problem, are fresh injury concerns.
Kenny said he felt strongly John Mountney had a legitimate penalty claim late on for his side but, otherwise, he too thought a draw was ultimately a reasonable result.
“We can play better,” he said. “I think the intensity of Wednesday night (in the Champions League against BATE) took a physical toll on us and we certainly didn’t have the energy levels we’ve shown in other matches. But the players showed their football intelligence and, on balance, one-one was alright.”
The trademark precise, fluent one-touch passing of the hosts, which had been suffocated by the Belarus side, was back in evidence right from the word go. And Dundalk’s promising play was rewarded after just 11 minutes when referee Neil Doyle found an aggrieved Alan Bennett guilty of dragging down Brian Gartland in the box, as a Darren Meenan cross was floated in from the right. Towell made no mistake from the spot, sending Mark McNulty the wrong way to put the champions one-up.
Just three minutes later, the visitors threatened to get back on level terms but, though through on goal, Karl Sheppard’s effort from a tight angle was denied at the near post by the outstretched foot of goalkeeper Gary Rogers, before Cork had further reason to be upset with referee Doyle when, after a word with the fourth official, he sent Caulfield to the stands for animatedly protesting a decision.
But in the 37th minute, it was the turn for the smiles to be on the faces of the travelling Rebel Army when, from a superbly delivered, in-swinging Kevin O’Connor free kick from the right, Mark O’Sullivan stole a few crucial inches on Dane Massey to leave Rogers helpless with a firm header to the far top corner of the net.
The drama of a full-tilt contest, with Cork’s sometimes more direct approach balancing out Dundalk’s intricate build-up play, continued right up to the break, skipper Dunleavy wrong-footing his own goalkeeper with a bad back pass before McNulty inexplicably compounded the error by picking up the ball under no pressure. City got themselves off the hook from the resultant indirect free kick, however, the wall charging out to block Towell’s effort from close to the penalty spot.
In the 71st minute there were huge home appeals for a penalty as substitute Mountney and Bennett clipped legs in the box but this time referee Doyle, seeing accident rather than intent, was unmoved.
And, though O’Donnell subsequently came close with a header in what was by now a free-flowing, end to end game, clear-cut chances remained in short supply and neither side was able to fashion the decisive breakthrough.
Rogers, Gannon, Boyle, Gartland, Massey, Meenan, Finn (O’Donnell62), Towell, Shields, Horgan (Kelly 84), McMillan (Mountney 55).
McNulty, Dunleavy (McSweeney 66), Murray, Bennett, O’Connor, Miller (Healy 89), Buckley, Beattie, Holohan (Morrissey 74), Sheppard, O’Sullivan.
Neil Doyle (Dublin).