Classy Towell bags ninth goal of the season to sink Cork
Cork City 1 Dundalk 2
CORK City were left with an empty feeling in front of a full house as Dundalk inflicted more pain on John Caulfield.
Stephen Kenny has enjoyed victory in all four meetings between these sides since Caulfield’s appointment made City a force again, with last year’s treble proving the difference in the title race.
Dundalk demonstrated champion class in this intense affair with goals either side of the break from Richie Towell, which brings his personal tally to nine in six matches, the perfect response to falling behind in a match for the first time in this campaign.
It extends their advantage at the top to five points with the Louthmen showing ominous intent in their mission to retain the crown.
The streets around Turner’s Cross were heaving with fans 90 minutes before kick-off and the stadium was packed to its capacity of 6,900 when ref Rob Rogers set proceedings under way. Happily, the big occasion delivered in terms of entertainment value.
Cork came into this game with a perfect home record, yet it was clear from the outset that it would be tested by the champions who assumed control once they recovered from allowing Karl Sheppard an early free header.
Chris Shields mopped up in front of the back four, providing the platform for Richie Towell and Ronan Finn to support Dave McMillan. City were under the cosh and their shape was disrupted when a serious injury ended John Dunleavy’s participation. Liam Miller dropped back alongside Colin Healy to make room for Garry Buckley.
Dundalk continued to be sharper in possession and movement and came close when a superb Daryl Horgan 25-yarder crashed back off the bar.
Therefore, they had reason to feel aggrieved when the deadlock was broken in odd fashion by the natives as a routine Billy Dennehy cross caused confusion and made its way past Gary Rogers via a slight touch off Andy Boyle.
Cork responded positively and could have doubled their advantage with Dennehy denied firstly by Rogers and then by a series of Lilywhite blocks.
But they couldn’t hold onto their lead until the interval and conceded in the two minutes of added time as McNulty’s weak punch from a Darren Meenan corner was expertly controlled and dispatched by Towell after John O’Flynn stopped tracking his run.
Cork emerged with similar sloppiness which was punished inside 65 seconds as a mazy run from the tireless McMillan drew a clumsy foul from Darren Dennehy and a penalty that Towell slotted past McNulty.
This set up an absorbing second half as the Leesiders went in search of a leveller playing into their favoured Shed end. A frantic scramble that concluded with Darren Dennehy hooking over from six yards frustrated the masses.
Yet there was relief as McMillan struck the woodwork from a counter at the other end after Kenny withdrew Finn and sent in Stephen O’Donnell.
Cork’s introduction of Mark O’Sullivan and switch to 4-4-2 gave them impetus, but they were kept at arm’s length by a savvy visiting rearguard with Billy Dennehy set-pieces and a nod wide from Sheppard the sum total of their late endeavours.
Dundalk were always one step ahead, though, and this result affirms their position in the pecking order at a vital juncture.
Cork City – McNulty, Kavanagh, Bennett, D Dennehy, Gaynor (Lehane 84); Dunleavy (Buckley 20), Healy; B Dennehy, Miller, Sheppard; O’Flynn (O’Sullivan 66).
Dundalk – Rogers, Gannon, Gartland, Boyle, Massey; Meenan (Mountney 74), Shields, Towell, Horgan (Grimes 79); Finn (O’Donnell 62); McMillan
ref – R Rogers (Dublin)