Cork City's hopes of avoiding relegation from the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division suffered another significant blow as they were beaten by Dundalk at Turner's Cross on Tuesday evening.
A quickfire brace from Patrick Hoban in the final 17 minutes was enough to earn Dundalk the three points that sees them climb to third in the table while City - now seven league games without a win - remain two points adrift at the bottom with just three fixtures remaining.
Filippo Giovagnoli made seven changes to the side that drew 0-0 at Oriel Park against Finn Harps in their last outing with Nathan Oduwa, Cameron Dummigan, Andy Boyle, and Chris Shields the only survivors.
Dummigan had the first shot at goal inside the opening minutes and the left-back was unfortunate to see his thunderous strike from the edge of the penalty area drifted just past the far bottom right corner.
Colin Healy was taking charge of City for the first time on home soil and the interim manager, who was accompanied by former boss John Cotter in the technical area, made five alterations to his starting XI that beaten 3-0 by Bohemians last Friday.
Mark McNulty (missing with a back strain on his 40th birthday), Dale Holland, Cian Bargary, Cory Galvin, and Ricardo Dinanga were replaced by Liam Bossin, Alan Bennett, Henry Ochieng, Dylan McGlade, and Cian Coleman.
The Leesiders set up with a 4-5-1 and the formation, as well as their work-rate, restricted the current champions of Ireland to shots from distance.
Patrick McEleney tried his luck from 25 yards after 11 minutes but his ambitions weren't rewarded as Liam Bossin made a comfortable save before Michael Duffy fizzed a half volley from a similar position just wide of the left post midway through the first half.
Patrick Hoban threatened on a couple of occasions before the half an hour mark but after his header from a corner deflected kindly to Bossin, he scuffed a great opening straight at the City shot-stopper.
The Lilywhites continued to control possession and they again went close to breaking the deadlock on 34 but Sean Murray’s fiercely struck half volley whistled narrowly wide of the top right corner.
The visitors then had strong penalty appeals waved away. Alan Bennett slid in to cut out Nathan Oduwa’s dangerous cross and the referee Neil Doyle deemed it had struck his arm by accident and instead pointed for a corner.
City had their first shot at goal in the 40th minute but it was never troubling Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers, who calmly gathered Cian Coleman’s attempt from all of 35 yards before Sean Gannon dragged the final shot of the half wide of the far upright from just inside the box.
The hosts took a huge collective sigh of relief at the beginning of the second period as the Europa League Group stagers almost edged in front in fortuitous circumstances. Michael Duffy cut onto his right foot and his curler looked destined for the far corner until Bossin intervened.
The keeper did well to get down low to his left but his save rebounded off the on running Hoban and dropped just past the gaping net.
The Rebel Army nearly scored what would’ve been a crucial goal for them just past the hour but after a surging run, Dylan McGlade’s powerful hit was well stopped by Rogers.
In the end, their resilience was finally broken in the 73rd minute as a mix up between Bossin and his defence saw City fail to deal with a cross and Patrick Hoban was on hand to fire home from a couple of yards.
And two minutes later, Hoban doubled his side’s lead when he coolly slotted Sean Gannon’s superb cross into the bottom right corner from close range.
Substitute Cian Bargary almost set up an interesting finale but he fired wide of the far top right corner on the turn as City now have three matches - home to Waterford (Saturday) and Derry, and a trip to Sligo Rovers in between - to save themselves.
Cork City: Liam Bossin; Joseph Olowu, Alan Bennett, Jake O’Brien, Kevin O’Connor; Uniss Kargbo (Alec Byrne half time), Cian Coleman, Gearóid Morrissey, Henry Ochieng, Dylan McGlade (Cian Bargary 73); Deshane Dalling (Connor Simpson 85).
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Cameron Dummigan; Chris Shields, Sean Murray (Gregg Sloggett 65), Patrick McEleney (Jordan Flores 80); Nathan Oduwa (Stefan Colovic 80), Patrick Hoban (David McMillan 88), Michael Duffy (Daniel Kelly 88).
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin).