Cork's coronation put on hold as Benson equaliser keeps Dundalk's slim title challenge alive
Cork City 1 Dundalk 1
Dundalk remain the League of Ireland champions, but they left it late to deny Cork City at Turner’s Cross last night as Robbie Benson’s 87th-minute goal secured a draw for the Lilywhites.
In front of 6,983 people, John Caulfield’s side came close to securing the win needed to claim the title, but Benson met Dylan Connolly’s low cross to ensure the celebrations were postponed.
Having begun the game wearing number 18, a blood injury saw the midfielder wear 27 and then 36, and he completed the mathematical set with his ninth league goal.
Perhaps surprisingly, given that they had comfortably beaten Drogheda United on Friday, Dundalk had more changes than the hosts, who had suffered defeat against Limerick.
Chris Shields, Michael Duffy, Seán Hoare and Benson came into their side with the suspended Niclas Vemmelund, Conor Clifford, Stephen O’Donnell and Jamie McGrath missing out.
For City’s part, captain Alan Bennett, Conor McCormack and Garry Buckley were the inclusions, instead of Robbie Williams, Greg Bolger and Kieran Sadlier, despite the latter scoring and being one of the better players on Shannonside.
From the off, the tempo was high, with Dundalk’s David McMillan having the first effort on seven minutes after Duffy’s free-kick broke.
City were looking dangerous on the counter-attack as Stephen Dooley and Karl Sheppard resembled their selves from earlier in the season, while McCormack was playing to a standard similar to the 2-0 win over the same opposition in March.
Alongside him, Gearoid Morrissey impressed but he was the first in referee Rob Rogers’s notebook as tackles flew in.
Hoare soon joined him while Dane Massey was lucky not to, as Rogers avoided getting into the confetti stage too early.
The opening goal came in the 20th minute as City’s pressure told, albeit with the aid of some luck.
From Dooley’s low cross, Buckley had time to take a touch but his shot was poor. Gary Rogers couldn’t hold it though and with Jimmy Keohane sliding in, Hoare tried to clear under pressure only for the ball to hit Brian Gartland and end up in the net.
The Shed End was rocking and Dundalk were rocked, Rogers sending a clearance straight to touch immediately after, while Massey was forced to retire injured, just after being cautioned.
From that free-kick by Shane Griffin in the right corner, Buckley almost made it two, Rogers having to brilliantly tip his half-volley over.
Dundalk’s Shields did have one effort in the midst of the home dominance, firing over from a tight angle, but coming up to half-time City did have more opportunities.
First, Dooley tested Rogers with a low effort from distance after he showed good footwork from Sheppard’s chest down; then Dooley turned provider, scooping a ball over the top to allow Keohane to beat the offside trap but, under pressure from Gartland, he fired over and it remained 1-0 at half-time.
Dundalk came out with more endeavour at the outset of the second half, but couldn’t truly test Mark McNulty in the City goal.
The home side weren’t as fluent as they had been, but they came close to another goal in the 69th minute as Dooley’s curling free-kick from the left of the area was just over the crossbar.
Dundalk brought on captain O’Donnell and switched wingers Duffy and Dylan Connolly, with the latter having a deflected shot which McNulty dealt with on 73 minutes.
There was still time for them, though, and the home crowd was silenced when Benson slid in to meet the cross from Connolly.
City sought to respond and they had one half-chance, Buckley heading over from Sheppard’s cross, but it wasn’t to be. They turn their attentions to Friday’s cup semi-final against Limerick, with the game away to Bohemians on October 13 their next chance to secure the title.
CORK CITY – McNulty; Beattie, Bennett, Delaney, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey; Keohane, Buckley, Dooley; Sheppard.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey (Grimes 28); Shields (O’Donnell 67), Benson; Connolly, McEleney, Duffy (McGrath 85); McMillan.
REF – R Rogers (Dublin).