Friday 20 April 2018

Saints leave Cork title hopes in tatters on a night for the loyal few

St Pat's 3 Cork City 1

Aidan Fitzmaurice

Aidan Fitzmaurice

A tiny Monday night crowd in Inchicore, the gate clearly harmed by the obvious counter-attraction on TV from Anfield, had an atmosphere more akin to a pre-season friendly than the white heat of a title battle.

And if the Dublin public have little appetite for this title race, then Cork City’s interest in the Premier Division crown is surely all but over, this defeat leaving them seven points behind champions-elect Dundalk with three games to play.

With Dundalk, as expected, strolling to another win in Longford, Cork needed back-to-back victories from their two league meetings with St Patrick’s Athletic this week.

Instead, a stunning 83rd-minute goal from substitute Sam Verdon and then an injury-time penalty from Conan Byrne gave Liam Buckley’s side the win. Now, the title could be decided on Friday night, should Cork fail to win at home to Pat’s.

With just one win from their previous seven league games, little was expected of Pat’s, their fans voting with their feet of late, leading to a paltry crowd here of 369, but the Saints showed resolve and deserved the win.

And those who did pay in got a reward on 16 minutes, when Chris Fagan scored only his second league goal since April, sliding a shot past Mark McNulty after he was set up by a fine ball from Michael Barker.

The goal came against the run of play as that title-chasing City side had been on top, but Fagan’s strike didn’t sap Cork’s morale, Jamie McGrath’s presence on the goal-line blocking an almost certain goal from Kenny Browne.

The experienced Cork side regrouped, helped by hesitant defending from the home side, though Saints skipper Ger O’Brien did well to block Garry Buckley’s shot in the box, while Alan Bennett should really have scored when Stephen Dooley’s cross found its way to him on 37 minutes.

Conan Byrne and Fagan again had efforts for Pat’s but seconds before the half-time whistle, Cork drew level, Bennett rising high and heading past Clarke from a corner by the in-form Kevin O’Connor.

Cork lacked spark and energy and paid the price by conceding late on. Sub Verdon beat McNulty with a well-struck shot from distance on 83 minutes and in added-time, Byrne scored from the spot after Greg Bolger felled McGrath in the box.

St Patrick’s Athletic – Clarke; O’Brien (Feely 80), D Dennehy, Hoare, Bermingham; Barker (Verdon, 58), Desmond, Kelly (B Dennehy 88); Byrne, Fagan, McGrath.

Cork – McNulty; Beattie, Bennett, Browne, O’Connor; Sheppard (Mulcahy 70), Buckley, Bolger, Holohan (Ogbene 73), Dooley (O’Sullivan 81); Maguire.

REF – B Connolly

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