Caulfield sees red as dominant Dundalk move within touching distance of title
Cork City 0 Dundalk1
On the night that a power cut affected a good portion of the city, the lights went out on Cork City's title defence. It will take a while for the darkness to lift.
Like all four meetings between the fierce rivals this term, this game was decided by a one-goal margin. But that did not do justice to Dundalk's superiority.
On the pitch, Cork City failed to land a blow on their guests in their second-half search for an equaliser.
They were missing the sideline presence of John Caulfield who was sent to the stands after a half-time tunnel row involving players and staff.
Cork City assistant John Cotter - who was sent out for media duties - claimed afterwards that members of the visiting camp who "weren't involved in the game" were in the mix.
Dundalk assistant Vinny Perth is understood to have been caught up in the row, but victorious manager Stephen Kenny said he didn't see it. Caulfield was protesting his innocence.
There was no dispute over the outcome of the game, however, with Cork suffering three losses on the bounce for the first time since 2003.
It capped the worst month of Caulfield's tenure as Cork City boss. Before the game, he was forced to address questions about unrest in the camp.
Cotter sought to play it down afterwards, and suggested that Josh O'Hanlon and Barry McNamee - the pair whose absence set tongues wagging - could be available for next Sunday's FAI Cup semi-final with Bohemians.
But a flaccid performance from Cork spoke loudly here. Clashes between these sides are notable for their intensity but the football battle was a non-contest for large spells.
Dundalk's fans were in full voice after a stress-free conclusion. This was the start of the victory tour for Kenny's side, and they celebrated accordingly after the final whistle.
"Our record down here hasn't been particularly good," said Kenny, whose last Turner's Cross success came in April 2015.
"This was big for us. We had to win to make life comfortable for ourselves."
If his side win at home to Derry City on Tuesday, they will be 12 points clear with four games remaining. As it stands, Cork's goal difference is inferior by a margin of 24. It's game over, and both camps know it.
Kenny tried in vain to dampen the mood by insisting they had won nothing yet. And they also have an FAI Cup semi-final with UCD on Friday, so the Dubliner is anxious that focus is maintained.
But his players managed to fit in a brief post-match singsong before setting off back up the road with 'Wonderwall' the song of choice.
Most of the locals were well on their way home by that juncture. In truth, that feeling of resignation hung in the air beforehand with successive defeats draining local anticipation levels and reducing the attendance to 4,310 when this match generally pushes close to the 7,000 capacity.
Even if the league was gone already, Cork needed a performance to shift attention away from their strife.
Caulfield had taken corrective action after last week's Dalymount Park nightmare by dropping centre-halves Damien Delaney and Aaron Barry and goalkeeper Peter Cherrie.
But they still found themselves behind within four minutes with Chris Shields skipping away from a static Cork midfield to engineer an elongated one-two with Patrick Hoban before finding a way past Mark McNulty with the aid of a wicked deflection off Conor McCarthy.
Cork did have a penalty shout waved away in the immediate aftermath with Brian Gartland grabbing hold of Graham Cummins in the box, but referee Neil Doyle waved the appeals away.
However, they were slow to warm to proceedings and risked the concession of a second when the busy Michael Duffy - watched by Ireland assistant Roy Keane - curled wide.
The frustrating aspect of the situation for the natives was that Cork competed well for a period once they recovered from their shaky start.
When the midfield three of Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey and Garry Buckley are at their best, they can cover a lot of ground and unsettle Dundalk's rhythm. But those passages were fleeting.
That said, the away rearguard generally succeeded in keeping green shirts at arm's length and efficiently defended crosses that were sent into the box.
It remained that way for the duration.
There would be more drama in the tunnel than in the second 45 with Caulfield duly condemned to the PA booth. The only announcements coming from that direction were substitutions, as Cork made fruitless changes.
Their top scorer Cummins was withdrawn, with Dundalk well in control without necessarily banging the door down in search of a second goal.
Shields was outstanding. Centre-halves Gartland and Sean Hoare controlled their patch.
As the last throw of the dice, Cork turned to the veteran Delaney as an emergency striker.
The desperation was telling. Next Sunday's trip to Dalymount is their last chance to salvage joy from a season of regression.
CORK CITY - McNulty; Beattie, McCarthy, McLoughlin, Griffin; McCormack (Delaney 88), Morrissey; Keohane, Buckley, (Coughlan 61) Sadlier; Cummins (Daly-Butz 72).
DUNDALK - Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson (Jarvis 86); Mountney, McEleney (McGrath 75), Duffy; Hoban (Kelly 90).
REF - N Doyle (Dublin).
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