Polished goals from top scorers Kieran Sadlier and Graham Cummins at either ends of this contest gave Cork a 2-0 win at the Showgrounds, a result that saw them retake the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division’s top spot, a point clear of Dundalk.
McNulty’s superb 78th-minute save to thwart Sligo Rovers substitute Liam Kerrigan, when the visitors led 1-0, was the game’s turning point.
In what was Sligo’s best scoring opportunity, the Tubbercurry teenager’s shot from Regan Donelon’s left-wing cross looked to be heading in – only for McNulty to push the ball onto the post and deny the home side a merited equaliser.
Two minutes later, City doubled their lead. Graham Cummins, sporting a head bandage as a consequence of an accidental 13th-minute collision with Sligo centre-back Kyle Callan-McFadden, powered home a header from Steven Beattie’s delivery.
Although impressed by Kieran Sadlier’s low, drilled shot that gave the visitors the lead after a minute, as well as Cummins’ decisive finish, Cork manager John Caulfield reserved special mention for Mark McNulty.
“It was a great save by Mark, that is what he is there for,” said Caulfield.
“That is why I believe he is the best keeper in the league. He has a phenomenal record of clean sheets this season.
“Obviously the team and the back four are working hard as well but Mark is a super goalkeeper. You have no chance of winning anything in this league unless you have a good goalkeeper.”
Despite Cork registering a 17th win from 22 games, Caulfield admitted they underperformed against a side who are third from bottom.
Rovers’ energy, enthusiasm, and bright build-up play had Cork on the back foot for most of this contest. Sligo, without top scorer Adam Morgan, were also dealt a blow when injury forced Callan-McFadden off inside the opening 20 minutes.
They also had a 36th-minute goal ruled out as the ball was adjudged to have been over the endline before David Cawley squared it for Alistar Roy to sweep past McNulty.
Caulfield said: “We’ll take the three points. I keep saying it every week, every game is so tough. Nothing is ever easy. While this wasn’t our greatest performance, we got two great goals and we’re happy with the three points.”
Caulfield wants to remain on top of the table going into the mid-season break which means Bohemians have to be beaten at Turner’s Cross this Friday. But he will take nothing for granted. “Bohemians are a very stubborn team and can create lots of problems for you so we need to be on our game for that.”
Meanwhile, Sligo manager Gerard Lyttle bemoaned his side’s 11th loss in 21 games. “For me, we were the better side for 75 minutes. I thought we played all the football but we didn’t get the points and that is disappointing.”
Beeney; Sharkey, Callan-McFadden (Donelon 17), Mahon, McClean; McAleer (Cretaro 62), McCabe, Cawley, Wixted; Roy (Kerrigan 77); Morrison.
McNulty; Horgan (Griffin 46), Bennett, McLoughlin, Kane (Beattie 71); McCormack, Keohane; Sheppard, Buckley, Sadlier (McNamee 81); Cummins.