Cork City’s hopes of reclaiming the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division titlehave taken a big hit as they slumped to their first home league defeat of the season against Sligo Rovers at Turner’s Cross on Friday evening.
Karl Sheppard’s early header had the Champions on course for victory but second-half goals from David Cawley and Raffaele Cretaro was enough to see Rovers climb eleven points clear of safety but for the Leesiders, they now trail leaders Dundalk by six points with six games remaining.
John Caulfield made seven changes to the side that defeated Maynooth University Town 4-0 in the FAI Cup second round last Friday but he made three switches from his side’s disappointing 1-1 draw with St Patricks Athletic in their last league outing.
Gearoid Morrissey returned in place of Jimmy Keohane while Aaron Barry made his first league start since the 2-1 defeat away to Waterford at the beginning of April while Johnny Dunleavy made his first start since last June, they replaced Kieran Sadlier and the injured Steven Beattie.
Gerard Lyttle made just the one alteration from his starting eleven which was beaten 2-0 by the Lilywhites in their previous fixture with Adam Wixted replacing Kris Twardek.
And the visitors threatened to take the lead in the opening exchanges here but the lively Rhys McCabe fired the free kick he won straight at Mark McNulty from thirty plus yards.
City, who were given hope in their bid to reclaim their title as Dundalk suffered defeat at home to Shamrock Rovers on Tuesday night, quickly gained control of proceedings they took the lead in the tenth minute through Karl Sheppard.
Barry McNamee’s superb free kick from the left picked out Sheppard inside the area and he cleverly guided the ball into the far bottom right corner for his sixth league goal of the season.
Rovers responded well to that setback and David Cawley tried his luck from distance moments later but his fierce drive was easily dealt with by McNulty.
In the 19th minute, both sets of supporters rose to their feet and applauded the memory of young Oran Tully who sadly passed away recently.
The Double winners went close to doubling their lead midway through the first half but after the ball broke to Barry McNamee inside the box, his initial shot was well blocked by Regan Donelon, and the playmaker turned the difficult rebound wide of the far post.
The tempo of the match soon dropped and the final chance of the half fell to the visitors but Jack Heaney couldn’t direct his controlled half-volley on target from the edge of the box.
The Bit O’Red introduced Raffaele Cretaro for the cautioned right-back Kyle McFadden at the half time break and their bid to become more creative almost paid dividends just shy of the hour mark.
Patrick McClean rose highest from a set piece but his header back across the goal was cleared off the line by the alert Karl Sheppard.
Kieran Sadlier was quickly called upon in place of McNamee and he twice went close to scoring almost immediately.
The attacker was desperately unlucky to see his low free-kick curl against the base of the left post before he drilled a powerful attempt inches past the top right corner from distance.
And those misses would prove costly as Sligo levelled the score with 18 minutes remaining through David Cawley.
McCabe’s long-range free was parried by the City keeper into the path of Cawley and he squeezed the ball home from a tight angle.
City pressed for a winner to keep their title hopes alive but instead it was Sligo who got it with an incisive counter-attack.
Substitute Caolan McAleer’s stunning defence-splitting pass sent Cretaro through on goal and after coolly sitting McNulty down, he drilled the ball past him.
That goal was enough to stretch Sligo’s lead to second bottom Limerick to 11 points while the defeat surely ends City’s hopes of winning the league.
CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Johnny Dunleavy (Jimmy Keohane 86), Damien Delaney, Aaron Barry, Shane Griffin; Gearoid Morrissey, Conor McCormack (Josh O’Hanlon 76); Barry McNamee (Kieran Sadlier 62), Garry Buckley, Karl Sheppard; Graham Cummins.
SLIGO ROVERS: Mitchell Beeney; Kyle McFadden (Raffaele Cretaro 45), John Mahon, Patrick McClean, Regan Donelon; David Cawley, Jack Keaney; Adam Wixted (Kris Twardek 60), Lee Lynch, Rhys McCabe; Mikey Drennan (Caolan McAleer 81).
Referee: Derek Tomney.