If Shelbourne are to retain their Premier Division status come September, they will look back on games like Friday evening’s hard-fought 2-1 win over Cork City as a turning point in their bid for survival.
Second half goals from Lee Murtagh and substitute Darren Tinnelly set the home side on their way before Kalen Spillane’s late header set up a nail biting conclusion. But, the Shels defence held firm under intense pressure much to the delight of the majority inside a sun-drenched Tolka Park.
The revival under Johnny McDonnell continues to gather pace as a season destined to end in relegation now has the momentum needed to pull off a remarkable escape.
However, it could have been a whole lot different for the hosts if Ciaran Kilduff had made it two goals in as many games since moving from Shamrock Rovers after just twenty-six seconds. The striker latched onto Daryl Kavanagh’s perfectly timed through ball but after rounding Lee Murphy, his tame effort was cleared off the line by Pat Flynn.
The visitors started brightly and were eager to test Murphy, who had to sport a baseball cap in order to keep the sun out of his eyes, at every opportunity. Both Shane Duggan and Daryl Horgan had attempts on goal in the opening exchanges but did little to trouble the shot stopper.
After starting the game on the back-foot, Shels came out of their shell as the half wore on but lacked any real quality going forward. In a half of few goalmouth incidents for the hosts, Adam Hanlon’s header from a set-piece was about as good as it got.
At the other end, Kilduff and Kavanagh’s movement was keeping the Shelbourne defence on their toes but it was Garry Buckley’s header on the stroke of half time which forced Murphy into action.
With the words of their manager no doubt still ringing in their ears, the basement club began the second period in the ascendancy and if it wasn’t for Buckley’s brilliant defensive header, they may have taken the lead shortly after the interval.
It wasn’t long before McDonnell’s charges did hit the front as a perfectly worked set-piece unlocked the City rear guard. Sean Brennan’s deep cross was headed back across goal by Ian Ryan for Murtagh to fire home from a couple of yards and send the Tolka Park faithful into raptures.
The Rebels looked to respond immediately but couldn’t find the cutting edge to break down a defence which has already leaked twenty-nine goals this campaign.
In fact, it was Shelbourne who looked more likely to double their advantage but Brennan couldn’t keep his shot down after Murtagh did brilliantly on the right flank.
As the minutes ticked down, Cork pushed on in search of an equaliser and thought they had the perfect opportunity to level proceedings before assistant referee Mark Gavin correctly overruled Derek Tomney’s original decision to point to the spot.
Kavanagh drove into the box and went over under the challenge of Graham Gartland but was deemed to go over too easily and was booked as a result. The decision sparked outrage in the visitors’ dugout as one of the backroom staff was sent to the stands for his protests.
Their sense of injustice heightened just moments later as the home side doubled their lead on 81 minutes. Tinnelly was only on the pitch at matter of minutes before firing his second effort past Mark McNulty.
The action wasn’t over there however as Spillane rose highest to head Horgan’s set-piece into the corner and set up a nail biting finish for Shelbourne.
Tommy Dunne sent Denis Behan on up front but it was Kilduff’s glancing header from Horgan’s cross that nearly drew the sides level but Murphy was relieved to see the ball sail narrowly wide of his upright.
The final whistle sparked angry protests by Dunne in particular but in truth his side were simply out-muscled in a tight encounter by opponents who wanted the points more.
Shelbourne: Lee Murphy; Brian Shortall, Graham Gartland, Ian Ryan, Pat Flynn; Sean Brennan, Derek Doyle (Darren Tinnelly 79), Glenn Cronin, Stephen Hurley; Adam Hanlon (Craig Mooney 90+5); Lee Murtagh (Dean Kelly 85).
Subs not used: Niall Burdon, Adam O’Connor, Robert Cornwall, Stephen Sheerin.
Booked: Gartland (57), Ryan (70)
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Kavanagh, Garry Buckley, Kalen Spillane, Neal Horgan; Ian Turner (Adam Rundle 66), John Dunleavy, Shane Duggan, Daryl Horgan; Daryl Kavanagh (Denis Behan 90); Ciaran Kilduff.
Subs not used: Kevin Burns, Eoghan Murphy, Brian Lenihan, Stephen Kenny, Danny Furlong.
Booked: Dunleavy (52), J Kavanagh (68), D Kavanagh (77).
Referee: Derek Tomney.
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Lee Murtagh (Shelbourne).