Sligo Rovers 1 Cork City 1
Title favourites Cork City will have to play a lot better than this if they are to be serious contenders in this season’s SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
But their resilience to dig out an away point against Sligo Rovers — thanks to substitute Ross Gaynor’s 96th- minute equaliser at The Showgrounds on Saturday night — suggests that last season’s near-glorious efforts, when they finished runners-up, can be built upon.
Sligo, who took an 84th-minute lead when Steven Beattie scrambled home from close-range following a corner, were distraught at the nature of Cork’s smash-and-grab draw, coming in the sixth minute of added time, after the fourth official’s board signalled that an extra five minutes would be played.
The home side’s substitute goalkeeper, Ryan Coulter, son of music legend Phil — was booked for time wasting in the fifth minute of time stoppage time — the last of eight yellow cards issued by referee Robert Rogers, in a game where both sides battled a swirling breeze and rain, in front of a healthy 3,082 fans.
Cork boss John Caulfield, obviously pleased with his side’s never-say-die attitude, admitted afterwards Sligo had been the better side — in the second half — although the outcome could have been so different if the crossbar hadn’t denied Alan Bennett’s goalbound shot on half-time.
Instead, Cork just clung on against opponents who improved in the second half with excellent performances from Stephen Folan, John Russell and Dinny Corcoran.
Caulfield, who came to Sligo minus the suspended Billy Dennehy and chicken pox victim John Flynn, expressed his relief at the point gained, with Munster rivals Limerick, who lost 3-0 to Bohemians at the weekend, to come to Turner’s Cross next Friday.
Caulfield said: “There are a lot of questions marks about us [after this] but, at the same time, to come back and get a goal in the last minute to get a draw shows the great character of the lads,” he said.
“We were disappointed at half-time because we felt that the game was there for the taking. Sligo tore into us in the second half.”
Few of Cork’s contingent stood out in a dour, scrappy spectacle, especially in the first half, with difficult conditions spoiling matters.
The congested midfield battle saw the illustrious duo Colin Healy and Liam Miller lose out to Sligo’s David Cawley and the nifty John Russell. Clear-cut chances were in short supply although Karl Sheppard went close with a 19th minute header from Healy’s free-kick and Cork went even closer in first-half added time, Alan Bennett’s effort hitting the woodwork.
Caulfield predicts that his charges will improve but he believes that the opening few weeks of the new campaign won’t tell the full story in terms of the title race.
“In the early rounds you want to stay in there from a confidence point of view and it is better not to lose games. We got a lot of late equalisers last year so we are happy from that point of view.
“It takes nine or 10 games before a pattern emerges. Whether you win, lose or draw the first game, I don’t think it has an overall bearing on the season.”
Rovers’ boss Owen Heary, expressed a mixture of frustration and delight. Heary’s well-organised outfit already seem similar to his Bohs side from last year that made life difficult for many of the leading teams, including Cork.
He said: “I thought we deserved to win. There were seven minutes [of added time] — but I’m not going to blame the ref. We needed to defend until the 97th minute.”
SLIGO ROVERS: Brush (Coulter 54); Keane, Folan, Peers, Ledwith; Beattie, Cawley, Russell, Puri (Kevin Devaney 66); Nielsen (73), Corcoran
CORK CITY: McNulty; Dunleavy (Djilali 90+2), Bennett, Murray, Dennehy; Holohan (Morrissey 79), Healy, Miller, Buckley (Gaynor 88); Sheppard, O’Sullivan. Referee: R Rogers
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