Garry Buckley’s late strike settled a pulsating clash as Cork City beat Drogheda United 1-0 at Hunky Dorys Park to overhaul Dundalk at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
Cork move three points clear of Lilywhites, who have a superior goal difference.
The first half saw Cork centre-half Darren Dennehy emerge as their biggest threat going forward as he hit two piledrivers, one of which was superbly tipped over the bar by Micheal Schlingermann.
Drogheda’s best efforts came from Gavin Brennan, who forced Cork keeper Mark McNulty into two saves, but the away custodian had no chance when United’s Gavan Holohan rattled the bar from long range in the second half.
Cork boss John Caulfied emptied his bench in a bid to snatch a winner and it paid off with nine minutes left when Garry Buckley struck from close range.
Caulfield had referred to the relatively narrow pitch at United Park in the build-up to this match and the opening exchanges were not surprisingly tight.
In the 10th minute Billy Dennehy tested Drogheda netminder Micheal Schlingermann from distance, but the keeper looked beaten on the quarter-hour mark when Darren Dennehy’s 35-yard piledriver grazed the outside of the post.
After a Gavin Brennan shot for the home side was blocked by a defender, action swung back to the other end and the two Dennehys threatened for a second time, with centre-half Darren’s long-range effort requiring a superb tip-over save from Schlingermann.
But Drogheda were growing into the game at this stage and Cork netminder Mark McNulty had to be on his toes to keep out a Brennan effort just after the half-hour.
The hosts also had a shout for a penalty when Holohan went down as he was challenged by Colin Healy, and McNulty held a Brennan header at the second attempt as Drogheda finished the first half strongly.
But Cork should have gone ahead on 51 minutes when Liam Kearney, just on as a sub for Gavin Kavanagh, escaped from his marker and delivered the perfect cross for Josh O’Shea whose volley rose over the bar from 12 yards.
Then it was the Cork goal’s turn to lead a charmed life as Gary O’Neill squared into the path of Holohan whose 30-yard drive rattled the crossbar.
Caulfield had emptied his bench by the 67th minute, adding extra firepower in Cillian Morrison and then John O’Flynn in a bid to unlock a well-drilled Drogheda defence, while the Boynesiders brought on fresh legs in Declan O’Brien and Sean O’Connor.
Cork should have struck on 81 minutes when O’Flynn attempted to set up a team-mate when better placed to score himself, but Drogheda couldn’t clear their lines and moments later Garry Buckley lashed the ball past Schlingermann for the crucial lead.
Drogheda pushed hard for an equaliser but found Cork in no mood to surrender a proud record of seven consecutive clean sheets.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Micheal Schlingermann; Daire Doyle, Alan McNally, Michael Daly, Shane Grimes; Cathal Brady, Stephen Maher, Gavan Holohan, Killian Brennan, Carl Walshe; Gary O’Neill. Subs not used:
CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Brian Lenihan, Gavin Kavanagh, Darren Dennehy, John Dunleavy; Billy Dennehy, Colin Healy, Garry Buckley, Dave O’Leary, Josh O’Shea; Mark O’Sullivan. Subs not used:
Referee: Rob Rogers (Dublin).