Cork City have all but secured their SSE Airtricity League Premier Division status for next season as they narrowly defeated U.C.D 3-2 in an extraordinary game at Turner's Cross on Friday night.
Conor McCormack’s injury-time finish proved to be the difference between the two sides as Neale Fenn just about secured his first win in charge of City and the club’s first league win on home soil in five months while U.C.D are also all but mathematically relegated.
Maciej Tarnogrodzki made just the one alteration to his team that draw 0-0 with Finn Harps in their last outing as Richie O’Farrell came into the starting eleven with Evan Farrell dropping to the bench.
The students were almost gifted the lead after two minutes as O’Farrell intercepted Shane Griffin’s loose cross-field pass but after charging to the edge of the area, the midfielder’s low strike was easily saved by Tadgh Ryan.
Fenn made two changes to his side that was narrowly beaten 1-0 by Bohemians at Dalymount Park last Friday evening with Colm Horgan and Eoghan Stokes being replaced by Gearoid Morrissey and Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh, who was making his first start for the club.
The young striker was close to marking the occasion in style in the 18th minute but he was beaten to Shane Griffin’s clipped cross from the left by the alert goalkeeper Conor Kearns as he looked to head home.
The Leesider’s grew into the game after that and they went even closer to taking the lead just shy of the half an hour mark following an incisive attacking move.
O’Brien Whitmarsh released Karl Sheppard with a pass over the top of the defence and the attacker cleverly picked out the run of Conor McCormack but the makeshift right-back drilled his shot over the bar from a good position.
But City would finally edge in front with 34 minutes on the clock as Sheppard again races onto an excellent long ball in behind, this time by Gearoid Morrissey, and after cutting inside his marker his powerful strike somehow made its way past Conor Kearns at his near post.
The Rebel army took that into the half time break and they almost doubled it at the beginning of the second period but O’Brien Whitmarsh poked his attempt wide of the near post after collecting Daire O’Connor’s through ball.
The visitors almost levelled against the run of play moments later and it took a sensational double save from City shot-stopper Tadhg Ryan to initially deny Dara Keane’s fierce drive before reacting to also stop Yoyo Mahdy’s rebound.
And that proved to be decisive as Cork made it 2-0 when O’Brien Whitmarsh sent Daire O’Connor through on goal and the former U.C.D man coolly slotted the ball past the keeper.
But the Dublin club, to their credit, refused to give in and they set up and interesting finale with 18 minutes remaining as Dara Keane sent his towering free header from Jason McClelland’s corner past the helpless Ryan.
They almost snatched an equaliser late on but Ryan produced another sensational save from Keane’s strike before Conor McCormack’s last ditch block deflected Liam Kerrigan’s goal-bound effort to safety.
U.C.D saw Kerrigan sent off for a second yellow card late on and Conor McCormack looked to have sealed the three points in injury time when he skipped past his marker and drilled his shot into the far bottom right corner.
But within a minute of making it 3-1, McCormack allowed U.C.D’s Jack Keaney to make it 3-2 from the penalty spot as he fouled substitute Danu Kinsella Bishop inside the box.
Kinsella Bishop almost equalised with virtually the last kick of the game but after shrugging off his man he struck the left post as City clung on to the crucial three points.
Cork City: Tadhg Ryan; Conor McCormack, Conor McCarthy, Dan Casey, Shane Griffin (Colm Horgan 82); Gearoid Morrissey, Alec Byrne; Karl Sheppard, Joel Coustrain (Eoghan Stokes 75), Daire O’Connor; Beineon O’Brien Whitmarsh.
UCD: Conor Kearns; Mark Dignam (Danu Kinsella Bishop 88), Harry McEvoy, Luke Boore (Ciaran Behan 27), Paul Doyle; Jack Keaney, Dara Keane, Richie O’Farrell; Liam Kerrigan, Yoyo Mahdy (Sam Byrne 82), Jason McClelland.
Referee: Sean Grant (Wexford).