Daryl Horgan stole the show yet again as Dundalk powered past Cork City in tonight’s top-of-the-table clash at Oriel Park.
The Galweigan was the cause of Dundalk’s two first-half goals which effectively sealed the victory for the Lilywhites, a win which sees the three-in-a-row chasers reinstate their four-point lead at the summit of the Premier Division table with five games remaining.
Oriel Park’s atmosphere has been fairly subdued in 2016, however, it’s just typical of Horgan’s season that he was the one to bring it to life. It was his seventh minute free-kick that forced the opener with his superb shot deflecting off Cork goalkeeper Mark McNulty and into the net.
Horgan was at it again in the 36th minute when he punished a retreating Cork defence by unleashing a vicious right-footed shot from 20-yards which nestled into the roof of the net. The famous old Carrick Road venue was in ecstasy.
Cork pulled one back 12 minutes after half-time when Mark O’Sullivan’s goal-bound toe-poke hit off Andy Boyle’s knee and past the helpless Gabriel Sava, 2-1.
The full-time whistle was greeted by unconfined joy as Dundalk held-on to secure a win which puts them firmly in the box-seat to secure a club-record third league championship since 2014.
In what was billed as the biggest game of both side’s domestic season to date, Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny made arguably his biggest decision of the campaign by dropping ‘keeper Gary Rogers to the bench.
However, Kenny was to be proved correct in bringing in Gabriel Sava between the sticks for his first league start this season. The Romanian was superb with his handling in particular standing-out.
Alan Keane was also handed his league debut in place of Sean Gannon, who wasn’t included in the 18.
Former Dundalk double-winner Sean Maguire had been in excellent form recently scoring 10 goals in his previous seven appearances for the Rebels. He led the line with manager John Caulfield opting for the same starting XI which dismantled Galway United on Saturday.
Pre-match, Caulfield had called for his side to attack from the off and his side obeyed, going route-one from the kick-off as Dundalk found themselves pinned-in for the opening five minutes. The dual between Keane and Stephen Dooley down the left-flank was already firing the crowd-up.
Dundalk took the lead with their first meaningful attack as McNulty deflected Daryl Horgan’s free-kick into the net. The goal added injury to insult for City with Patrick McEleney seemingly falling to the ground under little contact in forcing the decision.
Alan Bennett was the aggrieved party on that occasion, although the veteran defender was perhaps lucky not to see a spot-kick awarded against him moments later having appeared to handle a Daryl Horgan cross.
All-in-all the first-half produced little in the way of chances despite the Lilywhites soon extending their advantage. The game was bogged down in midfield with ferocious challenges flying in from every angle.
The game was effectively settled leading-up to the interval when Daryl Horgan hammered home. The dazzling winger skipped past Greg Bolger’s weak challenge before running half the length of Oriel Park and ruthlessly despatching past McNulty. The champions led 2-0 at the break.
Cork, as they have done so often this season pulled them back into the match in the second-half though. Steven Beattie somehow managed to dig a cross out for substitute Mark O’Sullivan and the frontman found the bottom corner, although Andy Boyle’s deflection may well have deceived Sava in his attempts to get to it.
O’Sullivan headed narrowly wide moments later as the Rebels built offensive momentum through the willing Dooley in particular. Upon conceding Stephen Kenny immediately called for Chris Shields to be introduced to shore up a gaping Lilywhites midfield, yet another masterstroke by the Dundalk manager with Shields being extremely efficient in front of his back-four in the closing minutes.
Cork captain Bolger was becoming increasingly influential as the game wore-on, however he will count himself very lucky not to have become the second visiting player to be dismissed in consecutive games at Oriel Park following a rash challenge on Shields. Referee Tomas Connolly awarded the free-kick, but much to the bemusement of the home patrons he failed to brandish a second yellow-card for Bolger.
The home side were cursing Bolger further 12 minutes from time following his incredible goal-saving challenge on Ronan Finn as the number 10 wound up an effort. That proved to be the final piece of goal-mouth action as Stephen Kenny secured his ninth win over the Rebels since taking charge of Dundalk.
Dundalk FC: Gabriel Sava; Alan Keane (Paddy Barrett 90), Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; Ronan Finn, Stephen O’Donnell; John Mountney, Patrick McEleney (Chris Shields 58), Daryl Horgan; David McMillan (Ciaran O’Connor 84)
Subs not used: Gary Rogers (gk), Shane Grimes, Darren Meenan, Dean Shiels.
Booked: Brian Gartland (18), Stephen O’Donnell (33), John Mountney (68), Dane Massey (75).
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett, Kenny Browne, Kevin O’Connor; Garry Buckley, Greg Bolger, Gavan Holohan (Mark O’Sullivan 54); Karl Sheppard (Chiedozie Ogbene 74), Sean Maguire, Stephen Dooley (Dave Mulcahy 86).
Subs not used: Eric Grimes (gk), Michael McSweeney, Colin Healy, Danny Morrissey.
Booked: Garry Buckley (21). Greg Bolger (44), Steven Beattie (54), Kenny Browne (90).
Referee: Tomas Connolly
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Daryl Horgan (Dundalk FC)