Dundalk all but seal title with victory away to champions Cork
Chris Shields’ early goal enough as Stephen Kenny’s side move nine points clear at top
Dundalk’s Chris Shields celebrates his early winner away to Cork. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Dundalk are just two games away from regaining the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title after Chris Shields’ early goal gave them a first win at Turner’s Cross in three-and-a-half years.
Going into the game six points ahead of their hosts and with a game in hand, the Lilywhites never looked like being beaten, having been set on their way in the third minute.
A Dundalk title win was all but assured even before Friday night, but the win means that Stephen Kenny’s side can move 12 points ahead of their rivals with a win over Derry City on Tuesday, with a goal-difference that is 22 better than the Rebel Army’s.
For the home side, the result means a third straight league loss, and a fourth game-in-a-row without a win - drawing and losing at home to St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers respectively before a setback at Bohemians last week. Since the beginning of July, five home games have now yielded just five points, with Derry City the only side beaten in the league at the Cross in that time. Adding to the anguish was the sending-off of manager John Caulfield at half-time.
In a bid to turn the tide, there had been five changes to the home starting 11 from the Bohs game, with Mark McNulty, Conor McCarthy, Seán McLoughlin, Garry Buckley and Kieran Sadlier all included.
However, any hopes of a good start to put the Lilywhites on the back foot were stalled as Shields struck for his third goal of the season. Having carried the ball forward from midfield, the midfielder passed to Patrick Hoban and took a shot when it was laid off, a deflection sending it past Mark McNulty in the home goal.
It completely changed the dynamic of the game, allowing Dundalk to dictate terms, to the extent that it would be the 21st minute before City had a shot on goal, with Gary Rogers untroubled by Gearóid Morrissey’s effort.
In between, Dundalk went close on more than one occasion, with a driven Dane Massey cross flashing just ahead of Patrick McEleney while Robbie Benson was unlucky not to reach the return pass after an attempted one-two with McEleney.
However, the home faithful had been left aggrieved in the eighth minute when they felt that Graham Cummins was wrestled to the ground in the area by Brian Gartland as a cross came over.
By and large though, the action was at the other end and Duffy wasn’t far away with a curling effort while John Mountney’s cross bounced dangerously, with Hoban and Duffy unable to reach it.
Ten minutes before half-time, Steven Beattie’s shot from distance might have tested Rogers but Massey got his head in the way and then Seán Hoare defended well as Jimmy Keohane sought to link with Seán McLoughlin in the visitors’ area.
However, in injury-time, Hoban almost made it 2-0 for Dundalk, just stretching to acrobatically reach Duffy’s cross after he held off Beattie before delivering the ball.
City were dealt a further blow at the break as Caulfield was ordered off by referee Doyle and on the field they were unable to turn the tide. Dundalk were firmly in control, with Shields excellent in midfield and Hoban’s touch immaculate up front, and Mountney and Shields both went close.
CORK CITY: McNulty; Beattie, McCarthy, McLoughlin, Griffin; McCormack (Delaney 89), Morrissey; Keohane, Buckley (Coughlan 61), Sadlier; Cummins (Daly-Bütz 71).
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Gartland, Hoare, Massey; Shields, Benson (Jarvis 86); Mountney, McEleney (McGrath 75), Duffy; Hoban (Kelly 90).
Referee: N Doyle (Dublin).