A last-gasp penalty from Killian Brennan maintained St Patrick’s Athletic’s three-point lead at the top of the Airtricity League Premier Division following a nerve-jangling 2-1 win over ten-man Cork City in Inchicore earlier this evening.
Most of the drama arrived in the second half, with Kalen Spillane’s dismissal in the 54th minute, preceding the Ciaran Kilduff's goal on the hour for City.
The hosts levelled matters within two minutes through a glorious goal from Anthony Flood, before Brennan calmly fired home from the spot in the 93rd minute, after he had been impeded inside the area by Kilduff.
The visitors, who arrived without key defensive personnel in Kevin Murray and Darren Dennehy, looked fragile from the outset with late replacement for St Patrick’s John Russell reaching the by-line in the third minute, but his low cross was comfortably collected by Mark McNulty.
City, who had failed to score in their five previous fixtures against St Pat’s, looked decidedly edgy, but a fine passing move in the tenth minute allowed Shane Duggan to fire a low, swerving shot from 20 yards that Brendan Clarke repelled with ease.
With the hosts on the front foot, both former-Saint Daryl Kavanagh and Danny Murphy received cautions in the 13th and 19th minutes respectively, before McNulty was called into action with twenty minutes played.
Murphy allowed Conan Byrne far too much room to deliver an exceptional cross from the right-wing, but the City goalkeeper tipped the ball to safety as Anto Flood looked primed to break the deadlock.
With the hosts continuing to attack down both flanks, Ian Bermingham was released into space down the left-wing and despite his low cross appearing to strike Neal Horgan’s forearm, referee Padraig Sutton waved away his ambitious penalty claims.
On the opposite flank, Murphy failed to receive adequate protection from Daryl Horgan and a wonderful delivery by Russell found the head of Killian Brennan, whose powerful low header from six yards was somehow hacked to safety by McNulty.
That momentum was maintained, with City retreating increasingly deeper with Byrne the provider on this occasion with another right-wing cross that found Christopher Forrester, but McNulty’s fingertips brushed the ball clear for a fruitless corner-kick.
Fortunate to be on level terms at the break, City showed greater attacking intent upon the restart with Kavanagh supplying Daryl Horgan in the 47th minute, but Garry Buckley’s resultant low shot from eighteen yards was placed too close to Clarke.
After McNulty had blocked a close-range effort from Forrester a minute later, the temperature was raised a notch in the 54th minute when Spillane was dismissed having been adjudged to have made head contact with Flood after City were incensed with Forrester’s appeals for a foul inside the penalty area.
With Buckley redeployed to centre-half, City remarkably took the lead on the hour mark as a long ball by Dan Murray found Ciaran Kilduff in acres of space and the former Shamrock Rovers player took full advantage with an emphatic finish beyond the out-rushing Clarke.
However, their lead lasted just two minutes as the hosts, in the shape of Flood, produced a sublime equaliser with the centre-forward twisting and turning on the edge of the area before curling a precise finish into the top right-hand corner of McNulty’s goal.
Having had no blame attached to him for the leveller, McNulty kept his side in the hunt with another majestic save from Byrne in the 64th minute, before Aidan Price spurned a glorious chance for Athletic when heading over Byrne’s inviting cross.
The keeper was proving an inspired presence and after coming out bravely to deny Forrester in the 72nd minute, he produced an exceptional fingertip save a minute later when deflecting Flood’s goalbound header onto the crossbar after City had failed to deal adequately with a delivery from substitute Jake Kelly.
The hosts grew increasingly frustrated as the contest progressed and look set for a point before referee Sutton and Brennan’s late interventions ensured a dramatic conclusion to a high-octane encounter.
St Patrick’s Athletic: Brendan Clarke; Ger O’Brien, Kenny Browne, Aidan Price, Ian Bermingham; Conan Byrne, John Russell (Jake Kelly, 72), Greg Bolger, Killian Brennan, Christopher Forrester (Stephen Maher); Anthony Flood (Christy Fagan, 80).
Subs not used: Rene Gilmartin, Conor Kenna, Sean Gannon, Lorcan Fitzgerald.
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Neal Horgan, Dan Murray, Kalen Spillane, Danny Murphy; Gearoid Morrissey, Shane Duggan, Garry Buckley, Daryl Horgan, Daryl Kavanagh (Brian Lenihan, 65), Ciaran Kilduff.
Subs not used: David Browne, Ian Turner, Danny Furlong, Danny Morrissey, John Dunleavy, Stephen Kenny.
Referee: Padraig Sutton (Clare)