Neale Fenn’s managerial reign got off to an inauspicious start as his attacking brand of football was undone by a ruthless Sligo Rovers front-line in this thrilling encounter at Turner’s Cross.
Fenn sat in the stands as City crashed out of the FAI Cup to Galway United last week, and wasted no time in stamping the team in his own image, making five changes to the starting line-up. A 4-4-1-1 formation saw Dáire O’Connor and Joel Coustrain on the flanks with Eoghan Stokes playing just behind Karl Sheppard.
Sligo Rovers came into the game two points ahead of Cork City, albeit having played a game more, and on the back of a 6-2 win over First Division side Limerick in last week’s FAI Cup match between the sides.
Both sides had their share of chances in an end-to-end first half that saw Sligo Rovers sit back and attack the Shed End on the break. The game was punctuated early on by fouls before an injury to referee Robert Harvey in the 18th minute brought a longer pause to proceedings.
Eoghan Stokes inadvertently brought down Harvey after attempting to tackle Coughlan, and although Harvey attempted to continue, he was replaced by fourth official Anthony Buttimer shortly after play resumed.
It was then that the game really came to life. Eoghan Stokes almost put City ahead on the 25th minute after a great move on the right flank. Sheppard’s cross sat up perfectly for Stokes’ acrobatic scissors kick but John Mahon got across well to block the effort.
Minutes later the ball was in the back of Mark McNulty’s net. John Russell’s pass from deep was intended for Ronan Coughlan, but with the forward straying offside he put his hands up as the ball passed him by.
Romeo Parkes was alive to the opportunity however and got himself behind the high line of the City defence to latch onto the loose ball ahead of Colm Horgan. Parkes slotted the ball calmly past McNulty to put his side ahead.
City responded immediately after a spell of pressure culminated in Dan Casey rising above the Sligo Rovers defence from a corner to equalise for Fenn’s side.
Sligo Rovers almost restored their lead with McNulty getting down sharply to make a last-ditch save from Kris Twardek’s far-post header.
But just as City were settling themselves, Sligo struck again, this time through former Cork City player Ronan Coughlan who was impressive throughout.
John Russell’s breakaway saw the winger find Coughlan on the edge of the box, with the striker making no mistake in squeezing the ball past McNulty to put Rovers ahead at the break.
Fenn made his first change of the game in the 53rd minute with veteran striker Mark O’Sullivan brought into the fray in place of Dáire O’Connor, Sheppard moving out to the left. Stokes couldn’t convert two chances shortly after, heading wide on both occasions from close range.
Sligo Rovers extended their lead on the hour mark with Parkes again converting, his close-range effort hitting the roof of the net after clever play by Coughlan and Kris Twardek.
The Bit O’Red were good value for their lead and looking comfortable, with the home crowd quietened before Shane Griffin popped up from left-back with a goal of the year contender. His thundering volley from 25 yards out left McGinty stranded in the Sligo Rovers goal, and all of a sudden the home crowd were back on their feet.
Alec Byrne and Josh Honohan were both introduced for a frenetic final 15 minutes. Garry Buckley came closest for City with 10 minutes left to play, his vicious volley from inside the box kept out by McGinty, before Cawley struck the crossbar with a dipping effort for the visitors.
Minutes later and disaster struck for the home side, a blunder from McNulty all but sealing the three points for Pat Buckley’s men. Failing to deal with a regulation back-pass, McNulty allowed Ronan Coughlan to poke the ball home to restore his side’s two-goal lead.
City encouraged going forward, but if this game has told Cork City fans anything, it’s that entertainment has a price.
CORK CITY: McNulty; Griffin, Bennett, Casey, Horgan (Honohan 76); McCormack, Buckley; D. O’Connor (O’Sullivan 53), Stokes (Byrne 79), Coustrain; Sheppard. Subs: Ryan, O’Sullivan, Byrne, Honohan, O’Brien-Whitmarsh, Holland, Crowley.
SLIGO ROVERS: McGinty; Donelon (Morahan 75), McFadden, Mahon, Banks; Russell, Fordyce, Cawley; Parkes, Coughlan, Twardek. Subs: McNicholas, Warde, Watson, Morley, Murray, Morahan, Leverock.
Referee: Robert Harvey (Anthony Buttimer 24).