Report by Graham Cummins for EchoLive.ie | Photo: Peadar O’Sullivan
Cork City’s play-off hopes suffered a setback after they were defeated 2-1 by runaway leaders Shelbourne in the First Division at Tolka Park on Friday night.
It was a game in which Shels showed why they are on course to win the title after controlling the game from start to finish. The Dubliners are a class above any other team in the division and defeat was no shame for City.
The Rebel Army, who came into the game on the back of their first away victory in almost two years, made one change from the side that defeated Athlone Town. Alec Byrne missed out after picking a hamstring injury in last week’s win, and he was replaced by Dale Holland in the City midfield.
Shels were coming into the game looking for their seventh successive win in the league. Ian Morris’s side held an eight-point lead at the top of the table before tonight’s fixture and he named the same starting 11 that successfully overcame Wexford Youths in their last outing.
As expected, Shels begun the game on the front foot, forcing City to defend several corners in the opening minutes. Before the game, City manager Colin Healy highlighted Shels’ threat from set-pieces and he would have been pleased by his side’s defending.
Holland had the visitors first chance of the match but he could only manage to fire straight at Brendan Clarke in the Shelbourne goal.
Moments later, it was Shels turn to try their luck at goal, but Mark McNulty comfortably saved from Dayle Rooney.
Cian Coleman has been a real danger for City this year from set-pieces but he couldn’t direct his effort on target from a City corner.
Shels started to dominate possession midway through the half but City frustrated the Dublin side by remaining disciplined out of possession. However, as the half grew, City started to defend deeper and deeper and were finding it difficult to get into the Shelbourne half.
George Poynton and JJ Lunney were given far too much time on the ball and were dictating the game. Shane Farrell came close to opening the scoring, before Michael O’Connor did give Shels the lead. As well as City had dealt with Shels’ set-pieces in the half, O’Connor was able to get his head on Poynton’s inswinging free-kick and give the hosts the lead nine minutes before half-time.
On the balance of play, it was no more than Shels deserved. City showed very little in terms of creativity and gave the Dubliners far too much respect by standing off the Shels’ players.
There was little response from City and Healy’s side were fortunate not to go into the break further behind after O’Connor and Ryan Brennan both came close for the hosts.
City survived a double scare shortly after the interval. First, when Luke Byrne struck the City post, and from the resulting corner, former City player Kevin O’Connor headed against the crossbar.
The Rebel Army were back on level terms on the 49th minute. Cian Murphy picked the ball up outside the penalty area and drove an effort into the bottom corner of the Shels’ net.
Shels weren’t behind for long and regained the lead seven minutes later. A misplaced pass from Holland allowed Michael O’Connor to square to Brennan, who made no mistake to finish past McNulty, despite Hakkinen’s best efforts to block the shot.
The gulf in class between the sides was starting to show. City would have been further behind had it not been for some excellent defending by Coleman.
City did threaten Shels towards the latter stages of the game but Morris’ side comfortably saw out the match.
SHELBOURNE: Clarke, Wilson, Gilchrist, Byrne, Kevin O’Connor; Poynton, Lunney, Farrell, Brennan, Rooney; M O’Connor.
CORK CITY: McNulty; Walker, Coleman, Hakkinen, Beattie; Baxter, Morrissey, Crowley, Holland (Walsh 72), Murphy (Kargbo 84); O’Brien-Whitmarsh (McGlade 68).
Referee: D Dunne