Dundalk edge closer to title as Cork have to settle for point
Dundalk 1-1 Cork City
Dundalk remain six points clear of Cork City at the top of the SSE Airtricity League table after the teams played out a draw at Oriel Park.
Stephen Kenny's side were looking to bounce back from their Champions League exit to BATE Borisov four nights earlier and they drew first blood when Richie Towell coolly beat Mark McNulty from the penalty spot after 11 minutes.
City, however, responded well to the early setback and Mark O'Sullivan got up to beat Andy Boyle to power a stunning header past Gary Rogers with eight minutes remaining in the first half.
A scrappy second half saw both sides struggle to create scoring chances and a tight encounter ended with a draw as the correct outcome.
The solitary point is the first that Cork City have taken in the border town in two seasons and keeps their hopes of reeling Dundalk in alive but the Lilywhites, with a six point cushion, will feel they are firmly in the box seat to retain their crown.
An absorbing first half threw up plenty of talking points. Dundalk, with their forceful pressing and zippy passing, showed no signs of fatigue from their European exertions and the high tempo start led to the opening goal after 11 minutes.
City were caught napping when Darren Meenan and Daryl Horgan played a short corner on the right and when Alan Bennett was penalised for pulling Brian Gartland, Richie Towell sent Mark McNulty the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Cork should have restored parity four minutes later. Gartland's weak back-pass was picked up by Karl Sheppard but his finish was weak and Gary Rogers saved with his legs.
The temperature continued to rise when Cork City manager John Caulfield was sent to the stands by referee Neil Doyle for disputing the awarding of a free-kick to Dundalk.
With Gavan Holohan and Liam Miller starting to get a foothold, the Leesiders settled into the game and they threatened on the half-hour mark.
Steven Beattie escaped from Dane Massey to deliver in a dangerous cross but Sean Gannon was on hand to sweep it behind for a corner. Bennett could only head the resulting delivery wide of the post.
The sides were level in the 37th minute. A bout of City possession ended with Chris Shields halting Steven Beattie's progress on the right and Kevin O'Connor's delivery was inch-perfect for O'Sullivan to guide a brilliant header past Rogers.
The travelling support were lifted by the goal and they were almost celebrating again three minutes later. Holohan tried his luck from distance, with Rogers relieved to see the deflected effort spin just wide of the post.
City's good work was almost undone on the stroke of half-time. John Dunleavy's back-pass caught McNulty on the hop, leaving the netminder with no option but to pick up the ball. However, Towell just couldn't find a way past the mass of green shirts parked in front of the posts with the subsequent 11-yard free-kick.
Quality football was a rare sight in the second half as both sides struggled to gain the upper hand.
Dundalk are expected to complete the signing of St Patrick's Athletic striker Ciaran Kilduff in the coming days and their need for reinforcements in the final third was highlighted when Kenny introduced midfielder John Mountney to play as a centre-forward for the final 36 minutes.
The Mayoman was involved in a major talking point in the 71st minute when he went down after a tangle of legs with Alan Bennett. This time referee Doyle gave the decision in Cork's favour, much to Mountney's frustration.
Dundalk looked the most likely to get a second and their best chance arrived in the 85th minute. Mountney delivered a cross from the right but substitute Stephen O'Donnell placeed his header wide.
Dundalk - Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Towell, Shields; Meenan, Finn (O'Donnell 61), Horgan (Kelly 83; McMillan (Mountney 54).
Cork City - McNulty; Dunleavy (McSweeney 64), Bennett, Murray, O'Connor; Buckley, Miller (Healy 89); Beattie, Holohan (Morrissey 74), Sheppard; O'Sullivan.
Ref - Neil Doyle.