Dramatic finish at Oriel Park as injury time own goal puts Dundalk back on top
Dundalk 2 Cork City 1
Oriel Park almost lifted off the ground last night as Sean McLoughlin’s injury-time own goal propelled Dundalk to the top of the SSE Airtricity League table.
With 90 minutes on the clock, it looked like it was advantage Cork City in the title race after substitute Josh O’Hanlon cancelled out Krisztian Adorjan’s second-half opener.
However, Stephen Kenny’s side dug deep and the vast majority of the 4,117 crowd went into raptures when McLoughlin, under pressure from Patrick Hoban, diverted a Ronan Murray cross past Mark McNulty to move Dundalk two points clear at the summit with 12 games to play.
Adorjan started for just the fifth time this season and his battle with Cork City captain Conor McCormack was one of many intriguing sub-plots to the night.
The Greenore man lasted just 21 minutes in Cork’s 1-0 loss here back in March before he was hooked by his manager but he did his stuff effectively in the opening stages.
It was Cork who put together the first move of note in the eighth minute. Kieran Sadlier’s floated cross from the right was directed back across goal by Graham Cummins but Jimmy Keohane couldn’t keep his header on target.
Dundalk responded with a similar attack of their own. Hoban out-muscled Alan Bennett to guide Jamie McGrath’s pass down for Michael Duffy but he couldn’t get the purchase required to test McNulty.
It was the natives who picked it up after that as they pinned Cork back for large spells, but that bit of guile they needed to unlock the door just evaded them.
Robbie Benson went a different route, his 35th-minute pile-driver just flashing over.
The visitors looked reluctant to try and impose themselves on the game but Barry McNamee, who spent much of the half assisting Horgan in his own half, showed a spark going the other way.
The former Derry City man tested Gary Rogers with a stinging drive before miscuing with a good opening, after he was picked out by Sadlier in the penalty area, before the half came to a close.
The supporters in the main stand were still taking their seats when Adorjan broke the deadlock.
Collecting a ball from Duffy on the inside-left channel, the Hungarian found a yard on McCormack to angle a fine drive across McNulty.
Cork struggled to regain their composure and Bennett was lucky to escape after flattening Hoban in the 51st minute.
McNulty then flapped at a cross from Duffy but Shane Griffin was there to help his goalkeeper out.
Caulfield reacted by making a double attacking substitution with Karl Sheppard and O’Hanlon replacing Keohane and Cummins in the 62nd minute and his roll of the dice paid off as City drew level four minutes later.
Bennett claimed a rare assist, hammering the ball back into the danger zone after Dundalk failed to clear a corner and O’Hanlon found himself ideally placed behind Brian Gartland to instinctively head home.
With frustration seeping in, Dundalk suddenly found themselves in danger of losing the game and Sheppard fired wide before Sadlier forced Gary Rogers into a smart save.
Hoban had little to feed on but his moment almost arrived with 81 minutes on the clock when he rose to meet a Dylan Connolly free-kick, only to see his header clear the bar.
That looked to be that but with substitute Murray’s devilish cross causing mayhem for McLoughlin, the young centre-back directed the ball past McNulty to settle an absorbing night and make it nine wins on the spin for Kenny’s title hunters.
DUNDALK – Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Benson, Shields; McGrath (Connolly 76), Adorjan (Murray 71), Duffy (Jarvis 90); Hoban.
CORK CITY – McNulty; Horgan, McLoughlin, Bennett, Griffin; McCormack, Morrissey; McNamee (Buckley 89), Keohane (Sheppard 62), Sadlier; Cummins (O’Hanlon 62).
REF – Rob Harvey.