A Karl Sheppard goal completed the scoring in what was an utterly dominant first-half performance by the home side, and while Pat Fenlon’s team came into the game more in the second period, City, now content to play on the counter, never seriously looked in danger of surrendering their two-goal advantage, much to the delight of the vast majority in a crowd of 2,731.
The Rebels went into the game missing the suspended Kenny Browne, with John Dunleavy deputising in the heart of the defence as Michael McSweeney came in at right back, while Karl Sheppard started in place of Stephen Dooley.
Rovers too were suffering the red card blues, with playmaker Gary McCabe missing out as a result of being sent off in the 2-0 defeat to Dundalk. Mikey Drennan was consigned to the bench, as Fenlon brought Trevor Clarke – an 18 year old making his league debut - and Luke Byrne into his starting line-up.
Before Friday’s 3-1 victory over Finn Harps, City had drawn three league games on the trot, leading to some misgivings among the faithful about a perceived lack of cutting edge in attack. Yet, including the 7-0 annihilation of Waterford United in the EA Sports Cup, Cork had actually run up 13 goals in their last four outings going into this game, hardly the stats you would associate with a blunt instrument. For all that, it was the maximum points on offer that were vital last night, as both clubs sought the win in this game in hand that would see them close the gap on the top two of Dundalk and Derry.
And it was City who got off to a dream start as, without a single Rovers player getting a touch of the ball, Greg Bolger found Steven Beattie on the right hand side of the box and, having neatly turned inside Luke Byrne, he beat Hoops ‘keeper Barry Murphy at his near post with a precise, low drive. Just 26 seconds on the clock and the Shed End, bathed in sunshine, were already celebrating a home lead.
The unfortunate Byrne lasted only a few minutes more as, with Beattie once again his tormentor, he hurt his knee in a heavy tackle and, after lengthy treatment on the sidelines, had to be replaced by Gareth McCaffrey, with Gavin Brennan obliged to fill in at left-back. It later emerged that Byrne had to be taken to hospital.
Back on the pitch, things rapidly got worse for Rovers, and even better for Cork, as Karl Sheppard availed of two bites of the cherry before finishing off a Michael McSweeney ball from the right with a sweet daisy-cutter of a strike.
Only 14 minutes on the clock, and Barry Murphy was being forced to retrieve the ball from the back of his net for a second time.
With Garry Buckley in dominating mood for the home side, the shell-shocked visitors struggled to get any kind of foothold in the game as Cork came close to adding a third, the home players and support claiming hand ball on the line as a close-range Sheppard effort was kept out by Pat Cregg after Murphy had dropped a high ball under pressure.
Then Beattie should probably have doubled his own tally in the 34th minute when a Maguire headed flick-on gave him a clear sight of goal but, from an angle, he dragged his shot just wide of the far post. Summing up Cork’s confidence, Greg Bolger then tried an impudent lob from the centre-circle which had Murphy back-pedalling before the ball dropped just over the crossbar. And City almost finished the half as they’d begun it, with Cregg having to clear a Gearóid Morrissey effort off the line – this time with his foot - before the referee’s whistle doubtless came as considerable relief to the embattled visitors.
Having failed to even test Mark McNulty in the first-half, the Hoops badly needed to make a strong start to the second, and there certainly was more energy about them right from the restart as they finally began taking the game to Cork, forcing a succession of corners.
But City, happy to defend in numbers as required, weathered that mini-storm and, through Sean Maguire and Karl Sheppard, continued to offer a threat on the counter-attack.
In the game’s final phase, McNulty was called into action a couple of times but, by then, Rovers had left themselves with simply too much to do and, as the clocked ticked down, it was Cork who came closest to scoring again, with Maguire having yet another effort cleared off the line, this time by Gavin Brennan, and the all-action Beattie rifling a fierce shot just wide of the post.
McNulty, Dunleavy, Bennett, McSweeney O’Connor, Beattie, Bolger (Healy 90), Buckley, G Morrissey (Holohan 90), Sheppard (D.Morrissey 88), Maguire
Murphy, Madden, Webster, Blanchard, L. Byrne (McCaffrey 10), K Brennan, Cregg, G. Brennan, Miele, T. Clarke, D. Clarke (North 80).
James McKell (Tipperary)