Drogheda United 1-1 Cork City
Cork City’s unimpressive draw with relegation-threatened Drogheda United wasn’t enough to keep the title race alive as Dundalk celebrated in Tallaght.
The Leesiders’ title ambitions were hanging by a thread after only eight minutes when Dan Murray’s short back-pass to Mark McNulty was intercepted by Keith Treacy, who toe-poked the ball past the keeper.
But after a Ross Gaynor shot was tipped over the bar by Drogs keeper Micheal Schlingermann, Cork levelled on 11 minutes courtesy of a deft finish from Karl Sheppard.
The visitors went on to dominate the first half, forcing eight corners, but failed to work Schlingermann and their best chance was a Darren Dennehy effort which grazed the post.
The second period was much more even and McNulty had to make fine saves from Michael Daly and Robert Bayly, while Garry Buckley failed to hit the target with Cork’s best chance.
Cork City needed to better Dundalk’s result in Tallaght to prolong the title race for at least another week, but they made a disastrous start against the second-from-bottom Boynesiders.
There were only eight minutes on the clock when Murray left a simple back-pass slightly short and as his keeper McNulty dithered, Treacy got a toe in first before tapping the ball to the empty net.
However, the Leesiders struck back almost immediately. Gaynor had a fierce drive tipped over the bar by Schlingermann, and when the resulting corner was cleared back to Gavan Holohan, the former Drogheda man dinked the ball in for Sheppard, who glanced the ball to the net.
After that early drama the game entered a lull, with neither keeper seriously extended in the remaining half-hour of the first half.
That said, Drogheda did have to defend no fewer than eight corner kicks, but that they did as Cork tended to aim the ball too close to Schlingermann, who made a number of clean catches.
The visitors did create a couple of half-chances from distance during this spell, but Garry Buckley sliced his shot badly wide and Holohan had two efforts blocked by the Drogheda defence.
The closest to a lead goal for Cork came in the 40th minute when a Holohan cross took a slight deflection off Drogheda’s Robert Bayly into the path of Dennehy, who hooked the ball narrowly wide.
For their part, the Boynesiders were limited to occasional counter-attacks, but their lone striker Ger Pender received little support and Mark Kinsella’s side badly missed the influence of their suspended former Sunderland star Sean Thornton.
The contest was more even at the start of the second half and McNulty had to dive to his right to keep out a Treacy free kick, before Schlingermann saved a Sheppard effort at the other end.
A miscommunication between Joe Gorman and Schlingermann almost led to a fortuitous lead goal for Cork as the defender’s back-pass struck the outside of the post before being claimed by the keeper.
But McNulty was then stretched twice in quick succession as he tipped efforts from Michael Daly and Bayly over the bar.
With Dundalk losing in Tallaght, Cork boss John Caulfield threw on Billy Dennehy and John O’Flynn in search of a winner and Garry Buckley nearly put them ahead in the 76th minute when he headed wide from a Holohan corner kick.
After Dundalk equalised in Tallaght, a draw was no longer good enough for Cork, but it was Drogheda who almost grabbed a priceless winner through their Dundalk native Tiarnan Mulvenna, who headed wide from an 85th-minute free kick.
Drogheda United: Micheal Schlingermann; Lloyd Buckley, Alan Byrne, Robert O’Reilly, Joe Gorman; Adam Whelan (Tiarnan Mulvenna 76), Robert Bayly, Michael Daly, Mark Hughes, Keith Treacy (Bob Mc; Ger Pender (Lee Duffy 46).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Michael McSweeney, Dan Murray, Darren Dennehy, Ross Gaynor (Billy Dennehy 69); Stephen Beattie, Liam Miller, Gavan Holohan (John Dunleavy 88), Garry Buckley, Kevin O’Connor; Karl Sheppard (John O’Flynn 68). Subs not used: Alan Bennett, Alan Smith, Stephen Folan, Liam Kearney.
Referee: Ray Matthews (Westmeath).