Cork City recorded their third successive SEE Airtricity League victory and ensured they kept tabs with leaders Dundalk with a hard-fought 2-0 win over Bray Wanderers at a rain-soaked Carlisle Ground .
An unfortunate own goal from Bray goalkeeper Stephen McGuinness and a Colin Healy penalty in either half gave the Rebels a full nine points from their three league outings in a week.
The hosts finished the game with nine men but John Caulfield’s side were thoroughly deserving of the spoils as Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane was among the hardy crowd who braved the elements.
Both Dave Scully and Adam Mitchell were shown red cards for the Seagulls while Billy Dennehy also saw red for his part in a first-half altercation with Scully.
The pair appeared to go head-to-head following Healy’s corner and after a brief consultation with his assistant, referee James McKell had no hesitation in sending both players off.
Minutes later, Cork hit the front. Healy’s free-kick struck the foot of the upright but rebounded in off the helpless McGuinness. The visiting fans would have to wait until the dying embers for the clincher, as former Irish international Healy slotted home from the spot following Mitchell’s clumsy foul on Rob Lehane.
Victory ensures Cork stay two points behind leaders Dundalk.
With this, their third game in seven days, it would have been understandable if John Caulfield opted to shuffle his deck. However, a spate of injuries have restricted his hand and he made just one change from the side that defeated Limerick on Tuesday.
His side, however, had barely settled into the game before the whole dynamic changed. After Healy’s set-piece was comfortably dealt with by the hosts, assistant referee Lee Bevins halted play to alert his colleague of the altercation at the back post.
After a brief consultation between the officials, a red card was shown to both Dennehy and Scully to the bemusement of the majority inside the Carlisle Grounds. It was later confirmed that the pair had become embroiled in a scuffle with both moving their heads in each other’s direction.
If anything, the dismissals added to the haphazard nature to proceedings in conditions unaccommodating to any sort of constructive football. As both sides wrestled for ascendancy in the central areas, the game’s decisive moment came through a set-piece.
Garry Buckley made a break from midfield and after he was felled for a free-kick in a promising area. Healy's low and powerful drive from 25 yards struck the post and bounced out before cannoned into the net off the luckless McGuinness.
From there on, Cork were content to sit in their rigid shape and dictate the tempo. Healy, sitting deep, orchestrated much of the play as Bray were unable to put together any meaningful passages of play.
Although they found themselves in fifth before this evening’s action, the Seagulls have struggled in front of goal and their shortcomings in the final third were accentuated throughout here. David Cassidy’s industry apart, they had no creativity in the engine room and Ismahil Akinade was out muscled and outnumbered in the lone striker role.
As so often has been the case this campaign, especially at home, Bray rallied after the interval but had no escape act this time. A brief period of pressure on the Cork box was as good as it got for the hosts but it was telling that Mark McNulty wasn’t forced to make a save of note during the 90 minutes.
Lehane squandered two glorious opportunities to kill the game off in the final moments. Firstly, a slip from Mitchell was pounced upon but the substitute’s initial effort was blocked before he fired over the rebound. Moments later, his wayward strike from the angle did little to worry McGuinness.
He didn't need a third invitation, however, as he capitalised on Mitchell’s second slip to win a penalty, which Healy duly converted to ensure all three points headed south.
Bray Wanderers: Stephen McGuinness; Niall Cooney, Dave Webster, Adam Mitchell, Robert Maloney (Jamie McGlynn, 45); David Scully, Graham Kelly, Dean Zambra (Shane Byrne, 69), David Cassidy, Adam Hanlon; Ismahil Akinade (Shane O’Neill, 69).
Subs not used: Shane Redmond, Danny O’Connor, Michael Brown, Ciaran Byrne.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy, Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy, Iarlaith Davoren; Colin Healy, Gearoid Morrissey, Garry Buckley (Dave O’Leary, 79), Liam Kearney (Rob Lehane, 61), Billy Dennehy; Mark O’Sullivan (John Kavanagh, 79).
Subs not used: Matt Gledhill, Ian Turner, Andy O’Connell, Kevin Mulcahy.