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A spectacular Colin Healy winner two minutes from time earned Cork City three vital points at Turner’s Cross on Friday night as they overcame St Patrick’s Athletic and closed to within four points of league leaders Dundalk.
Cork’s unexpected challenge for the 2014 SSE Airtricity League just won’t die. It looked like the Rebels might have finally run out of fuel when they went down to Dundalk at the same venue last weekend but this win puts them right back in the hunt following Dundalk’s draw with a rejuvenated Drogheda United at United Park.
And the winner, when it came, couldn’t have been snatched in more dramatic fashion. With 87 minutes played and a draw seeming the most likely outcome, Billy Dennehy delivered a corner into the Pats area which was popped up volleyball style at the back post. With his back to goal, Colin Healy launched himself into the air and sent a perfectly struck bicycle kick screaming into the far top corner.
It had been an entertaining game, regardless of the thrilling finale, and excepting a fifteen minute period at the end of the first half when the pace dropped. But it was, by and large, an even and adventurous evening of football.
Pats manager, Liam Buckley, made the surprise decision to start with Killian Brennan at centre back and gave a debut to Aaron Greene who started wide on the left in place of the suspended Chris Forrester. But despite several decent openings the Inchicore side failed to exploit the abilities of their wide players and even when opportunities arose they were frittered away.
City were perhaps less polished in their general play, often depending too much on high balls to pick out striker Mark O’Sullivan, but they played to their strengths and came out deserving winners.
The home team might have taken the lead as early as the tenth minute when Mark O’Sullivan set up John O’Flynn with a cushioned header, but Killian Brennan made a crucial saving tackle. Eight minutes later another O’Sullivan header forced Brendan Clarke into a decent save low down at his right hand post.
After 21 minutes Christy Fagan was played in by Byrne following some disastrous defending by Cork but the striker’s evening was perhaps summed up when he screwed his shot well wide of the target. Killian Brennan also missed a golden opportunity when he ended a superb run with a poor side-footed effort that span wide.
The best chance of the half came in its final minute when City stalwart Dan Murray drew an excellent save from Clarke with a well hit swivel and volley. It was a timely shot in the arm for a contest that had started to sag and if there was any danger of the listlessness continuing into the second period John Caulfield stepped forward to introduce Danny Morrissey in place of Liam Kearney on 54 minutes - a move which instantly re-energised the home team.
Cork started to make headway down the wings while Healy and Gearoid Morrissey began to create more danger from central midfield. Pats too stepped up a gear with Keith Fahey pushing further up the field and it was the former Irish international who had the next real opportunity when he burst through the middle only to see Mark McNulty pull off a fine save and to then be denied on the rebound under pressure from Healy.
At the other end, Conor McCormack came to Pats’ rescue with an extraordinary interception when Danny Morrissey seemed certain to head Cork into the lead from close range following O’Sullivan’s well placed cross.
Moments later Conan Byrne hit the post for Pats having been played in by Fahey before Kenny Browne was called on at the other end to deny O’Sullivan after Clarke suffered a rush of blood to the head and missed a ball on the edge of his own box.
Anything could have happened at that point with the contest swinging wildly from one end to the other but a foul on Gearoid Morrissey by Mark Quigley, who had already been booked for an earlier foul on O’Sullivan, left the visitors to battle on with just ten men for the final eleven minutes.
From then on City looked the most likely to break the deadlock. The Saints’ defending became more desperate with Greg Bolger picking up another card for a cynical foul on Morrissey, but they almost got over the line, holding out until the 88th minute before Healy’s match-winning intervention.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy, Dan Murray, Michael McSweeney, Ross Gaynor; John O’Flynn (Josh O’Shea 71), Colin Healy, Gearoid Morrissey, Billy Dennehy (David O’Leary 90); Liam Kearney (Danny Morrissey 54); Mark O’Sullivan.
Subs not used: Kevin O’Brien (gk), John Kavanagh, Darren A Murphy, Cillian Morrison.
Booked: McSweeney (13), Healy (28), Gaynor (40).
St Patrick’s Ath: Brendan Clarke; Conor McCormack,Kenny Browne, Killian Brennan, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne, Keith Fahy, Greg Bolger, Mark Quigley, Aaron Greene (Ger O’Brien 87); Christy Fagan.
Subs not used: Rene Gilmartin (gk), Lorcan Fitzgerald, James Chambers, Sam Verdon, Jack Bayly, Peter Durrad.
Booked: Quigley (54), Greene (76), K Brennan (79), Bolger (85).
Sent Off: Quigley (79)
Referee: Tomas Connolly
Extratime Man of the Match: Colin Healy (Cork City).