Cork City 1 Dundalk 0: For a long while we’ve been saying that only Cork City could stop Dundalk. Now, it might be more a case of only Dundalk can stop Cork City.
True, the defending champions remain top of the table, if only by one point, but going into the mid-season break, it’s surely City who hold the psychological edge having now beaten the Lilywhites home and away this season.
A first-half Stephen Dooley goal gave John Caulfield’s team their eighth win on the trot last night, as Dundalk were forced to play all the second half with 10 men following Chris Shields’ sending off.
And the margin of victory should have been greater for the home side, except that goal hero Dooley fluffed his lines from the penalty spot with just over 20 minutes to go, leading to an unnecessarily anxious final phase of a pulsating game for Cork before the three points were safely in the bag.
Disappointment for the Turner’s Cross faithful at the absence from City’s starting line-up of injured skipper Johnny Dunleavy turned to dismay after the game when news emerged that he is likely to miss the rest of the season.
Karl Sheppard, another injury concern ahead of kick-off last night, was consigned to the bench at the start. For Dundalk, meanwhile, Sean Gannon was a late absentee through illness.
For the second night in four at the Cross, the setting for football couldn’t have been better: Another gorgeous summer’s evening, another huge crowd but, this time, the prospect of a match of real competitive intensity and significance for those present, as well as those watching on live TV, to savour.
The intensity was evident from the off, with the game only a few minutes old when Stephen O’Donnell clattered Stephen Dooley, prompting a warning word for the Dundalk man from referee Rob Rogers while City boss John Caulfield raged on the sideline.
The Shed End, bathed in sunshine, warned the visitors that “we’re coming for you”, the bulk of the weight of expectation and pressure falling on the shoulders of the home side, as Cork urgently went in search of the win that would close the gap at the top.
With Kenny Browne orchestrating the team’s forward movement from the back, City were dominating possession in the game’s opening phase and, crucially, disrupting Dundalk’s lines of supply so effectively that dangerman Daryl Horgan had barely had a touch of the ball until the 15th minute when his free-kick from the left briefly caused panic in the Cork penalty area. And then, a minute later, the former local hero was leaving right-back Michael McSweeney for dead with a turbo-charged burst of speed up the wing, as the visitors began to enjoy a spell on the front foot.
But in the 25th minute almost the whole ground was rocking as City took the lead with a classic counter-attack. It began with Dundalk pressing forward but a brilliant Gearoid Morrissey tackle saw the ball break for Sean Maguire who cleverly laid it off for the effervescent Dooley. The winger still had it all to do but at the end of a powerful run from the half-way line all the way into the Dundalk penalty area, he kept his cool to get by Andy Boyle and finish clinically with his left foot inside Gary Rogers far post.
And just four minutes before the break Dundalk suffered another blow, this time self-inflicted, when a reckless, lunging tackle by Chris Shields on Steven Beattie saw absolutely no hesitation on the part of referee Rogers in reaching into his pocket to show a straight red.
With the first action of the second half, Greg Bolger sent a screamer just wide of Rogers goal as City, now playing into the Shed End, lost no time in going after the second goal against the 10 men that would surely make the result safe.
Bolger was now playing a captain’s role in pushing his team forward but, almost out of nothing, a Brian Gartland long-ranger at the other end — after the defender had been allowed too much time to advance and shoot — was a reminder that that 1-0 was still a vulnerable lead against the champions, even when they were down to 10 men.
So there was huge celebration from the home support when, after Andy Boyle fouled Sean Maguire in the box, the referee awarded City a penalty in the 67th minute. But, having done it the hard way for his first goal, Dooley couldn’t do it at all from the spot, ballooning his effort high into the Shed to throw Dundalk a possible lifeline.
The home crowd found its voice again to jeer the sight of a frustrated Horgan being called ashore as Stephen Kenny sent on Patrick McEleney in hopes of making the most of his side’s reprieve.
And Dundalk almost got it in the breathless dying minutes when City had Maguire to thank for heading a Ciaran Kilduff header off the line before the substitute then shot inches wide when it seemed certain that he was going to score.
McNulty, McSweeney, Browne, Bennett, O’Connor, Beattie (O’Sullivan 83), Bolger, G Morrissey, Dooley, Holohan (Buckley 61), Maguire (Healy 90)
Rogers; Barrett, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; O’Donnell, Shields, Meenan (Benson 68), Finn, Horgan (McEleney 71), McMillan (Kilduff 47)
Rob Rogers (Dublin)
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