By Robert O’Reilly
A second-half strike from Stephen Dooley was all that separated league leaders Cork City and Drogheda United in a competitive clash at United Park.
Both sides had squandered chances in the first-half before Dooley’s breakthrough sealed a hard-fought win for the visitors.
Drogheda United manager Pete Mahon made three change from the side that lost to St Patrick’s Athletic last week with Shane Elworthy, Stephen Dunne and Sean Brennan all starting.
The league leaders almost made the perfect start as Karl Sheppard slipped the ball into the path of Conor Ellis who rounded Stephen McGuinness before firing wide from an acute angle.
City were threatening from the off and they came close again on eight minutes. A short free-kick was worked into the path of Sheppard who turned brightly before firing low at goal with McGuinness equal to the strike.
Having felt their way into the game. Drogheda missed a glorious chance to break the deadlock. Sean Russell worked the ball into the feet of Chris Mulhall who picked out Thomas Byrne but the winger curled his low shot narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
A lightning-quick counter-attack from Sheppard almost yielded the breakthrough as the former Shamrock Rovers man crossed for Ellis who beat McGuinness to the ball but struck the post from close range.
Frustrated by a number of refereeing decisions, Drogheda went in level at the break and they could’ve opened the scoring early in the second-half as Jake Hyland pulled his strike wide from Russell’s delivery.
Drogheda were made to pay for their missed chances as Cork struck on 54 minutes. Ellis’ flick on was only partially cleared by Elworthy with Dooley pouncing on the loose ball before sliding the ball under the onrushing McGuinness.
Cork almost made it 2-0 ten minutes later as substitutes Kieran Sadlier and Achille Campion combined with the former crossing for the latter who headed wide under pressure from Stephen Dunne.
Still rocked by the goal, Drogs captain Sean Brennan was caught in possession in midfield with Dooley releasing Sadlier clean through on goal only to be denied by a superb recovery tackle from Elworthy.
A foul on Mulhall presented Drogheda with a set-piece in a dangerous position but Russell’s strike was well held by Mark McNulty.
Pushing forward for an equaliser, Drogheda thought they had a penalty in the final minute of normal time as Mulhall was hauled to the ground by Robbie Williams but referee Robert Hennessy waved play on much to the frustration of the home crowd.
Cork almost sealed victory in stoppage time as substitute Jimmy Keohane struck the bar but it mattered little as they held on for all three points.
Drogheda will put their league struggles to one side next week as they take on Evergreen in the FAI Cup on Sunday week.
Drogheda United: Stephen McGuinness; Shane Elworthy, Lloyd Buckley, Stephen Dunne, Conor Kane; Jake Hyland (Richie Purdy 75); Thomas Byrne, Jack Bayly, Sean Brennan (Ryan McEvoy 67), Sean Russell (Adam Wixted 78); Chris Mulhall.
Unused subs: Ryan Masterson, Eoghan Dempsey, Jamie Hollywood, Stephen Meaney
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett, Robbie Williams, Shane Griffin; Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey; Karl Sheppard (Kieran Sadlier 61), Garry Buckley (Jimmy Keohane 80), Stephen Dooley; Conor Ellis (Achille Campion 61).
Unused subs: Ryan Delaney, Greg Bolger, Conor McCarthy, Alan Smith
DroghedaUnited.ie Man of the Match: Shane Elworthy