Goals from Liam Kearney, Garry Buckley and Billy Dennehy saw Cork City claim all three points at Turner’s Cross, beating Drogheda United 3-1 to move top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division table on goal difference.
A poor first half - during which both sides struggled to find any cutting edge up front - was followed by an end-to-end second half with all four goals coming in the final 30 minutes of action.
In front of another packed house on Leeside, Kearney put City in front when he capitalised on good play from Buckley to fire beyond former Cork City man Dave Ryan.
Drogheda levelled the game minutes later through Carl Walshe, before goals from Buckley and Billy Dennehy settled matters in favour of the men in green.
City made three changes from the team that drew with Sligo Rovers last time out - Anthony Elding and Darren Dennehy returning from injury and John Kavanagh replaced the injured Brian Lenihan.
Drogheda, likewise, had a different look from the side that lost to Bray with Paul Andrews and Stephen Maher in for Daire Doyle and Eric Foley, both of whom dropped to the bench.
The game took time to warm up with neither side making any impression in the opening minutes.
The first half-chance arrived on 13 minutes when a long ball forward from Shane Grimes led to Declan O’Brien escaping the clutches of Dan Murray and Kavanagh and forcing Mark McNulty into a decent save.
Kavanagh responded for Cork minutes later when he charged down the right wing - turning inside Grimes before firing to the left and wide with the partisan home crowd of 4,420 urging him to shoot.
McNulty was both hero and culprit in the 20th minute. The Cork keeper saved an initial effort but then felled O’Brien as he went to fire home the rebound. Referee Tomás Connolly had little choice but to wave a yellow card to McNulty and point to the spot - but Gavin Brennan, incredibly, lashed the ball to the left and wide having seen his opponent dive the wrong way.
The incident seemed to spark more urgency in the home side with a Darren Dennehy header from his brother Billy’s corner forcing Alan McNally to clear the ball off his own line two minutes later, while a stretching Mark O’Sullivan forced Ryan into a decent save not long after.
With O’Brien keeping Murray busy through the opening half, the centre-half had little opportunity to think about venturing down the field. He was unlucky, however, shortly before the break when his header from Kavanagh’s cross clattered against the crossbar. Ryan then gathered up the rebound with Buckley lurking.
There was still time for Gearoid Morrissey to fire an effort on target. Paul Andrews was the unfortunate player to be flattened by his powerful final shot.
Caulfield introduced Dave O’Leary in midfield for Elding for the second half, the former Limerick FC man taking up a role sitting right in front of the back four. That allowed Morrissey and Buckley a bit more freedom and Cork looked a much more solid outfit as a result.
Dunleavy was sent clear down the left on 50 minutes by a lovely ball from Murray. However, the full-back’s cross in across the face of Ryan’s goal couldn’t find a Cork City player.
Brennan tested McNulty with a long-range effort five minutes later before the break through came with 57 minutes on the clock.
O’Sullivan was fouled in the build-up but the referee let play continue and Morrissey hooked a ball inside to the roaming Buckley. Though he turned inside neatly, he couldn’t maintain control but the ball fell kindly to Kearney on the edge of the area, who planted the ball calmly to the back of the net.
O’Sullivan might have doubled City’s lead three minutes later when he headed just over the bar from another Morrissey cross. However, it would be the visitors would be the next to score, Walshe slotting home the loose ball from Michael Daly’s initial effort from 35 yards out.
Cork City reclaimed the lead on 76 minutes. Buckley followed in behind Billy Dennehy’s initial shot and hooked the ball beyond Ryan when it dropped kindly for him.
Drogheda continued to push forward, to their credit; however, the deciding goal arrived with eight minutes remaining. Andrews was lucky to remain on the pitch after taking down O’Sullivan on the edge of the area and Billy Dennehy took a deft run up to curve the resulting free kick around Ryan’s fingertips.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Kavanagh, Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy, John Dunleavy; Billy Dennehy, Gearoid Morrissey, Garry Buckley (Rob Lehane 89), Liam Kearney (Darren Murphy 80); Mark O’Sullivan, Anthony Elding (Dave O’Leary 46).
Substitutes not used: Colin Healy, Darren Murphy, Andy O’Connell, Kevin Mulcahy, Dave O’Leary, Rob Lehane, Matt Gledhill.
Drogheda: Dave Ryan; Michael Daly (Daire Doyle 84), Alan McNally, Paul Andrews, Shane Grimes; Carl Walshe, Ciaran McGuigan, Stephen Maher (Eric Foley 84), Gavin Brennan; Declan O’Brien, Gary O’Neill (Philip Hughes 84).
Substitutes not used: Dylan Connolly, Paul Crowley, Cathal Brady, Gavan Holohan, Philip Hughes, Daire Doyle, Eric Foley.
Referee: Tomás Connolly.