Niall Newberry reports from Oriel Park
Dundalk continued their unbeaten start to the SSE Airtricity League season with a 1-0 win over Cork City in what was a hugely entertaining match at Oriel Park on Friday night.
A calamitous mistake from City goalkeeper Mark McNulty allowed Patrick Hoban to score his third goal of the season after just four minutes.
That was all Dundalk required to register their first win against Cork in eight attempts – the last of which was a 2-1 win at Oriel Park in October 2016.
The Lilywhites outclassed their opponents from the south in every department and showed a real aggressiveness that wasn’t evident in any of their recent encounters with the Leesiders.
Stephen Kenny made two changes from the side that hit Limerick for eight last time out with Sean Hoare and Jamie McGrath replacing Stephen Folan and Dylan Connolly respectively.
Cork also made two changes from their win at Sligo Rovers, bringing in Conor McCarthy and Garry Buckley for Alan Bennett – who turned out to be a huge loss on the night – and Barry McNamee.
The hosts took the lead from a set-piece after Patrick Hoban was fouled by Cork captain Conor McCormack, who was booked and subsequently replaced after just 20 minutes.
The resulting free-kick from Ronan Murray was foolishly dropped by McNulty and Hoban couldn’t believe his luck, tapping in from close range.
McNulty endured a torrid night overall and was almost caught out again from a Murray set-piece minutes later before the veteran Cork keeper produced a fine save from Dane Massey’s low drive.
Murray – who scored twice against Cork in the President’s Cup – was again causing the Leesiders some headaches and his shot had looked goal bound before being deflected over by Shane Griffin.
Michael Duffy whizzed past substitute McNamee before unleashing a curling effort which had McNulty at full stretch.
At the other end, McNamee’s shot was brilliantly saved by Gary Rogers before Daniel Cleary cleared off the line after Kieran Sadlier had tried his luck from the rebound.
Dundalk again almost doubled their lead right on the stroke of half time after Murray's shot sailed agonisingly wide of McNulty's post as the hosts went in at the break deservedly a goal to the good.
McNulty saved from Murray after some neat build up play between McGrath and Duffy before the latter played through Hoban, who should’ve added his and Dundalk’s second but instead fired wide.
The inclusion of McGrath certainly raised an eyebrow or two amongst members of the press who were in attendance, but the Dundalk winger more than justified his inclusion – though he really ought to have done better when firing his effort straight into the arms of the grateful McNulty.
Cork’s goalkeeper then produced a good save from Murray but proceeded to drop the ball for a third time on the night from the resulting corner – luckily for him, this time Griffin was on hand to clear.
McNulty did go some way towards redeeming himself, first excellently tipping over from Massey’s rasping long range effort before saving Robbie Benson’s penalty after he was fouled by Aaron Barry.
Dundalk really should’ve put the game to bed once and for all when Duffy somehow shot wide before Benson hit the side netting late on.
It wasn't to matter as the Lilywhites continued their unbeaten start to go to within a point of Cork at the top of the table ahead of their visit to St Patrick’s Athletic on Monday.
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Sean Hoare, Dane Massey; Jamie McGrath (Dean Jarvis 90), Robbie Benson, Chris Shields, Michael Duffy; Ronan Murray (Karolis Chvedukas 79), Patrick Hoban (Marco Tagbajumi 90).
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Stephen Folan, Dylan Connolly, Krisztian Adorjan.
Booked: Chvedukas (86), Shields (90).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Conor McCarthy, Aaron Barry, Shane Griffin; Karl Sheppard, Gearoid Morrissey, Conor McCormack (Barry McNamee 21), Kieran Sadlier; Garry Buckley (Jimmy Keohane 78); Graham Cummins.
Subs not used: Peter Cherrie (gk), Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Sean McLoughlin, Colm Horgan, Michael Howard.
Booked: McCormack (6), Buckley (18).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Attendance: 3,563 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Chris Shields (Dundalk)