Cork City maintained their 100% home record with a resounding 4-0 win over an overwhelmed Bray side at Turner's Cross on Friday night.
Goals from Jimmy Keohane, Sean McLoughlin, Graham Cummins and Garry Buckley ensured the home side remain two points behind Dundalk as they seek to defend their title.
A scoreless draw in Derry, followed by Dundalk’s blitz of the same opposition, had seen them slip back down to second. It was, therefore, crucial to get back on track against Bray.
Bray's late penalty against Waterford during the week had kept up their faint hopes of staying up this season.
John Caulfield was forced to do without injured pair Gearóid Morrissey and Alan Bennett, joining John Dunleavy on the side-lines.
Bray kept with the same squad from the Waterford draw. Confidence was high in the camp, but a good start was essential, but disaster befell them a mere three minutes in.
Kieran Sadlier and Cummins combined before Barry McNamee played the ball into Keohane, who calmly strode onto the ball and place it home.
Bray were stunned, and it was nearly two straight away as Keohane’s cross was just missed by the City attack. All the plans were out the window straight away.
Sadlier, McNamee and Cummins had a number of opportunities to add to the lead. Poor execution and desperate defending prevented them from doing so.
Gradually, the away side began to gain a foothold into the game. Daniel Kelly miscued when well placed.
A series of crosses forced Mark McNulty to punch clear under pressure before a Gary McCabe free-kick worked the keeper also.
The veteran McCabe was starting to pull strings in mid-field and things were looking up. City were beginning to struggle in possession and chances were drying up.
A Sean McLoughlin header just wide from a corner was the first in a while. The away team looked as if they might get to the break only one behind and aim to frustrate City further.
A flashed free-kick was headed past the post by Dylan Hayes, but then then a soft goal was given away with minutes to go until the break.
A McNamee corner caused panic in the area, was headed back in by Buckley, flicked on by Cummins and swept home by McLoughlin.
Sadlier almost caught them straight away from kick-off but delayed his shot. The annoyance was evident in McCabe when he kicked the ball away upon the whistle.
The captain was almost cuplable for putting them further behind. His back-pass to Moran was under-hit and was intercepted by Sadlier. He rounded the keeper but skied his effort.
A decent run and cross on the left almost met the head of Paul O’ Connor. A goal there would have breathed life back into the game.
Instead, City went further ahead. A series of attacks down the left resulted in a cross by Sadlier into the area. Moran tried to tip it over but only succeeded in punching it downwards.
Cummins may never score a simpler goal. It was his last touch as Caulfield sought to rest players ahead of games coming up.
Karl Sheppard was one of those introduced and made an impression straight away. He was close to meeting a cross from the right.
His next effort helped make the fourth goal. His run, led to a perfectly lofted cross to the head of Buckley.
In truth, Bray never looked like getting back into the game. A couple of balls were launched towards McNulty in hope rather than expectation.
Dylan Hayes did have a chipped effort which floated just over. It seemed to be damage limitation more than anything as defensive switches were made. The final whistle was a relief.
Cork now have a Munster derby to look forward to on Monday evening where they will strive to regain top spot. For Bray, the struggle continues with a trip to Derry the same evening.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Colm Horgan, Conor McCarthy, Sean McLoughlin (Aaron Barry 75), Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack, Jimmy Keohane; Barry McNamee (Karl Sheppard 65), Garry Buckley, Kieran Sadlier; Graham Cummins (Josh O’Hanlon 65).
Subs not used: Adam Cantwell, Danny Kane, Steven Beattie, Michael Howard.
Bray Wanderers: Evan Moran; Dylan Hayes, Conor McKenna (Darragh Gibbons 79), Sean Heaney, Kevin Lynch; Paul O’Conor, Dan McKenna; Daniel Kelly, Gary McCabe (Ger Pender 69), Cory Galvin; Ronan Coughlan.
Subs not used: Adam Dempsey, Jake Ellis, Calvin Rodgers, Andrew McGovern.
Booked: Daniel Kelly (73).
Referee: Damien McGrath.
Attendance: 4,070 (official).
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Jimmy Keohane (Cork City).