Drogheda United lost further ground in their race for the title as Cork City secured their first win since June on a thrilling night of football at Turner’s Cross.
The visitors drew level twice and had a man advantage for 25 minutes only to fall behind for a third time to Davin O’Neill’s 68th minute strike, leaving their hopes of closing on Sligo Rovers in tatters.
After Shamrock Rovers closed the gap on them to two points with a 2-0 win on Friday, this game became all the more important for Drogs. But with their chase of the Bit O’Red starting to lose its acceleration, Mick Cooke chose to be conservative and have Declan O’Brien up front on his own, with Peter Hynes dropping to the bench.
It was a decision backed by a substantial amount of reasoning but within five minutes the plan was torn up thanks to Vinny Sullivan’s ninth league goal of the season. It arrived after John Sullivan brought his namesake down on the edge of the D and when Danny Murphy curled the dead ball of the post, Vinny Sullivan was on hand to roll the ball over the line.
Certainly, it was a start that Cork badly needed. After their dreadful performance in UCD 72 hours earlier, a showing which Tommy Dunne described as ‘disgraceful’, the manager made four changes. Though one of those was enforced, the other three weren’t and one stood out like a sore thumb: the banishing of club captain Dan Murray after the Englishman had a nightmare in Belfield.
Indeed, three of the back four were different – Gavin Kavanagh, Kevin Murray and Neal Horgan all coming in. Drogheda failed to threaten Mark McNulty up until the half hour point, as Cork carved out the best opportunities, though Sean Brennan made the crossbar rattle with a ferocious strike from 25 yards after skipping in from the left wing.
Keigan Parker, linking up with goalscorer Vinny Sullivan for the first time, held up the ball very well and with plenty of good support from Ian Turner and Daryl Horgan on the wings. It left United frustrated for quite some time. The Brennans, Sean and Gavin, failed to get as much ball as their feet desired.
Drogs did grow into the game from the moment Sean Brennan struck the woodwork and four minutes later they went close to a leveller again, Fabio O’Brien just wide to the right of the Cork goal after a darting run into the box. Inevitably, Cork continued to drop deep and they conceded in the 40th minute thanks to a beauty from Eric Foley.
Around 30 yards from goal the midfielder curled a spectacular attempt into the top left corner and even though Mark McNulty got a touch to it, he had no chance as the ball turned away from him and into the stanchion.
Cork however, went ahead again just five minutes after the break. Kevin Murray, one of those reintroduced to the starting side, made his selection more than worthwhile with a neat finish from close range after he escaped his marker after a long ball into the area.
What followed was theatre of the first-rate. Mark McNulty saw red for the home team on 64 after being judged to have taken down Gavin Brennan. Yet the Drogs wideman was well offside in the build-up, with the City keeper also getting a touch to the ball after rushing off his line. Derek Tomney flashed his red card and pointed to the spot, with O’Brien blasting home to level the tie again.
There was to be another sting in the tale as parity lasted just six minutes in a move that had the referee centre of attention again. Alan McNally rushed in with a horrific two-footed lunge on Shane Duggan, receiving a hideous gash to his leg in the process, but despite calls from the home support for a red card, play continued and O’Neill struck from a tight angle, the ball cannoning into the net with the aid of Gabriel Sava. McNally was booked as stretchered off before the game finally caught its breath and settled, City closing the points out well despite the man disadvantage and an incredible nine minutes of injury time.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Neal Horgan, Gavin Kavanagh, Kevin Murray, Danny Murphy; Ian Turner (Davin O’Neill 62), Gearóid Morrissey, Shane Duggan, Daryl Horgan; Vinny Sullivan (Kevin Burns 65), Keigan Parker (Keith Quinn 85).
Subs not used: Dan Murray, Brian Lenihan, Stephen Kenny, Garry Buckley.
Booked: Parker (56), D Horgan (74).
Sent off: McNulty (64).
Drogheda United: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Alan McNally (Brian Gannon 72), Alan Byrne, Conor McMahon; Sean Brennan (Tiarnan Mulvenna 62), Eric Foley, John Sullivan (Ryan Brennan 62), Paul Crowley, Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann, Jason Marks, Peter Hynes, Cathal Brady.
Booked: McNally (73).
Referee: Derek Tomney (Dublin).
Official attendance: 1,392
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: Kevin Murray (Cork City).