Declan O’Brien’s 87th-minute penalty broke Cork City’s hearts as the Leesiders had to settle for a point, drawing with Drogheda United 1-1 at a freezing Hunky Dorys Park.
The Boynesiders bossed the early exchanges and Graham Rusk was denied by the woodwork, but Shane Duggan put the visitors ahead, driving home a superb shot just past the half-hour mark.
Drogheda huffed and puffed in the second half but didn’t seriously threaten until substitute O’Brien rescued Mick Cooke’s side with three minutes left.
Kalen Spillane was recalled to the Cork line-up in place of the suspended Darren Dennehy, while the demotion of talisman Gavin Brennan to the bench was the main talking point in the Drogheda line-up.
The Boynesiders made marginally the better start and Eric Foley’s 25-yard pile-driver looked goal-bound, but it was blocked by Cork midfielder Duggan.
Then Ryan Brennan created an opening for Graham Rusk and his mis-hit shot looped over keeper Mark McNulty and off the crossbar before being scrambled clear.
The recalled Denis Behan was having an entertaining scrap with Drogheda’s Brian Gannon and the striker had a great chance just before the 20-minute mark, only to fire against the post as the whistle sounded for a push on the defender.
Then Gearoid Morrissey tried his luck from distance but the ball flew wide of keeper Gabriel Sava’s left-hand post.
Gary O’Neill, back in the Drogheda side after recovering from injury, then teed up Paul O’Conor who hooked the ball over the bar, and a great chance was wasted on 32 minutes when skipper Derek Prendergast headed over from inside the six-yard box.
Drogheda were made to pay 60 seconds later when Shane Duggan rifled a shot into the net from almost 30 yards, after his initial effort was blocked.
Coming up to half-time, the Leesiders threatened to add to their tally as substitute Garry Buckley – on as a sub for injured captain Kevin Murray – nodded over from close range.
Their growing confidence was illustrated when right-back John Dunleavy strode forward into an advanced position before warming the hands of Sava with a shot on target.
Drogheda replaced Rusk with Gavin Brennan at the interval and the winger immediately made an impact, getting on the end of a mis-hit shot from brother Ryan to test Cork keeper McNulty from just inside the box.
But with no breakthrough, and now into the final third of the game, Declan O’Brien and Peter Hynes were also summoned from the home bench, but it was Cork who almost put the game to bed on 77 minutes with a Morrissey 20-yarder that grazed the post.
The Leesiders looked like they would hang on, but on 87 minutes referee Neil Doyle spotted a hand-ball in the box and O’Brien rifled home the resulting penalty kick.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Gabriel Sava; Stephen Quigley, Brian Gannon, Derek Prendergast, Shane Grimes; David Cassidy, Graham Rusk (Gavin Brennan 46), Paul O’Conor, Eric Foley (Peter Hynes 69), Ryan Brennan; Gary O’Neill (Declan O’Brien 69).
CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy, Kalen Spillane, Kevin Murray (Garry Buckley 25), Danny Murphy; Gearoid Morrissey, Colin Healy, Shane Duggan, Adam Rundle (Ian Turner 58); Danny Furlong (Daryl Kavanagh 90), Denis Behan.
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin).