A win would have seen City cut Dundalk’s lead to only three points with a game in hand but a lacklustre first half performance cost them dearly as they failed to overturn a 2-0 half-time deficit despite a second-half performance where they dominated proceedings.
Cork boss John Caulfield made three changes to the side that bowed out of Europe to Genk last Thursday night with the injured Alan Bennett missing out, along with Michael McSweeney and Garry Buckley, who were on the bench.
The trio were replaced by David Mulcahy, Karl Sheppard, and Mark O’Sullivan, who impressed after being introduced against Genk.
Dave Robertson’s Sligo side arrived on Leeside full of confidence after hammering Wexford Youths 5-0 at Ferrycarrig Park on Friday night and he gave a full debut to new signing Achille Campion, who scored on his debut after coming off the bench in Wexford.
Robertson also had Jimmy Keohane returning from suspension as he made two changes, with Danny Kearns and John Russell relegated to the bench.
With Dundalk suffering a hangover after their European exploits in Galway on Friday night, it was imperative that City didn’t suffer the same fate in the race for the league title but things began to unravel as early as the eighth minute following a howler by Mark McNulty.
The keeper fluffed a back pass straight to the impressive Kieran Sadlier, who instinctively returned it first time into the empty net to give the visitors the ideal start.
Robertson’s side buoyed on by the goal, looked the hungrier of the two sides as they were full of energy and more aggressive in the tackle in the first half hour, with City’s front two of O’Sullivan and Sean Maguire starved of any service.
The home side gradually began to come into the game and Stephen Dooley went close in the 34th minute but dragged his shot narrowly wide from a tight angle, before Gearoid Morrissey shot straight at Michael Schlingermann from the edge of the box.
The home side found themselves 2-0 down on the stroke of half-time when Raffaele Cretaro found himself one-on-one with McNulty before Greg Bolger inadvertently put the ball in his own net as he tackled Cretaro as the striker was about to score.
It was City’s first league outing in almost a month and manager Caulfield must have had a few choice words at half-time as his side were booed off by a section of the disgruntled home support, who expected to be only three points behind Dundalk after the game.
Schlingermann made a good stop to deny Sheppard seconds into the second half as the home side reemerged a different outfit. The keeper then saved from the flying Kevin O’Connor before Sheppard had a great chance from inside the box but couldn’t find a way past Schlingermann again.
It was all City now and Maguire should have scored in the 63rd minute when substitute Danny Morrissey headed O’Connor’s cross into the path of the striker but he side footed over from close range.
O’Sullivan had a shout for a penalty turned down when he was bundled over by Gavin Peers in the 72nd minute.
Seconds after that decision, O’Sullivan did earn a penalty when Keohane fouled the striker and Maguire dispatched the resultant spot-kick to set up a grandstand finish.
Beattie came close in added time but his rasping drive flew inches over Schlingermann’s crossbar as City succumbed to their first home league defeat of the season.
McNulty; Beattie, Mulcahy, Browne, O’Connor; Sheppard (D Morrissey 55), Bolger, G Morrissey (Buckley 70), Dooley (Turner 77); Maguire, O’Sullivan.
Schlingermann; Adebayo-Rowling, Leahy, Boylan (Peers 64), Keohane; McCann, Roddan, Sadlier (Place 87); Martin; Cretaro (Russell 72), Campion.
R Harvey (Dublin).