Cork City made it four league wins on the trot and remain second in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division courtesy of a 1-0 victory over Athlone Town at Turner’s Cross.
A disappointing first-half was quickly forgotten when the introduction of Rob Lehane turned the tide in the hosts’ favour, and it was Mark O’Sullivan who would prove to be the difference between the teams when nabbed the game’s only goal shortly before the hour mark.
Athlone might have claimed a late point though as a lovely flick from Sean Brennan drew a top class save from Mark McNulty - ensuring all three points stayed on Leeside.
City made one change from the team that beat Bray Wanderers with Brian Lenihan returning to John Caulfield’s line-up in place of suspended midfielder Billy Dennehy.
Athlone introduced Philip Gorman and Declan Brennan for Derek Prendergast and Sean Byrne and organised themselves across midfield moving from a defensive wall of white shirts to supporting their number nine, Gorman, with numbers when called upon.
The game took time to open up with the first real shot in anger coming just before the 30-minute mark - Graham Rusk breaking through from midfield and firing a low effort straight at McNulty.
Both teams struggled to turn possession into anything meaningful as silly mistakes dominated proceedings though, and the two goalkeepers were reduced to a watching brief at times.
City veteran Dan Murray founded himself pushing forward more and more in search of a breakthrough and almost provided it on 38 minutes when his in-swinging cross whizzed past Paul Skinner’s right-hand post with O’Sullivan lurking nearby.
The chance was enough to jolt the crowd of 2,875 into life, and Garry Buckley came even closer to putting City ahead just before Paul Tuite whistled for half-time.
John Dunleavy was the supplier on this occasion and Buckley got his head to the Donegal man’s cross only to see his effort crash back off the underside of the Athlone crossbar.
Caulfield swapped Rob Lehane in for Liam Kearney at the break and City immediately looked a much more dangerous side.
The young striker directed an effort on goal with 50 minutes on the clock - having involved himself with Colin Healy during the build up - but his shot from 25 yards rose high over Skinner’s goal.
Lehane was again involved three minutes later when Gearoid Morrissey picked up a loose ball in midfield and found his team-mate with a slick pass.
The UCC student turned his man neatly but there wasn’t enough power in his side-footed effort to trouble the Town keeper.
The goal, when it eventually came, was an excellent move.
Lehane picked out Lenihan on the right wing, and the latter’s pin-point cross found O’Sullivan, who planted a lovely looping header beyond the reach of stranded Skinner.
O’Sullivan might have doubled his tally for the night two minutes later when the ball rebounded off his shin and Skinner had to scramble to prevent a second goal, while Barry Clancy was left to clear his own line when Lehane poked the ball beyond the Athlone keeper moments later.
Substitute Ian Sweeney forced a decent save from McNulty on 69 minutes, popping the ball up nicely for himself before letting fly from the edge of the area.
The burst of activity was ultimately enough to secure all three points for City, but the game was marred by a late red card for Athlone captain Alan Byrne.
The defender was booked twice within a minute for a rather rash challenge and then deliberate handball, and Tuite had little choice but to show a second yellow to Town’s number six.
The visitors might have napped a point in the dying moments despite City’s quantity of scoring opportunities, with Sean Brennan forcing a fingertip save from McNulty, from Sweeney’s cross, and it was left to Dunleavy to clear City lines.
All in all, another win for Caulfield’s men - who with the evening’s crowd of 2,875 have seen more supporters through the gates so far in 2014 than all of last season.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; John Dunleavy, Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy , Iarfhlaith Davoren (’90 + 4); Brian Lenihan, Garry Buckley, Colin Healy (Dave O’Leary ’73), Gearoid Morrissey, Liam Kearney (Lehane ’46); Mark O’Sullivan.
Substitutes: John Kavanagh, Ian Turner, Danny Morrissey, Kevin Mulcahy, Matt Gledhill.
Athlone Town: Paul Skinner, Stephen Quigley, Alan Byrne, Declan Brennan, Barry Clancy; Jason Marks (Ian Sweeney ’64), Mark Hughes, Kealan Dillion, Sean Brennan, Graham Rusk (Neil Harney ’86); Philip Gorman.
Substitutes: Craig Sexton, Aidan Byrne, Conor McMahon, Aidan Collins, Derek Prendergast.
Booked: Darren Dennehy (’25), Alan Byrne (’81, ’82), Barry Clancy (’84)