Sheppard’s double moves Cork City six points clear at the summit

Dundalk’s Chris Shields checks back inside Cork City’s Gearoid Morrissey. Picture: Ciaran Culligan

Cork City 2–1 Dundalk FC

Karl Sheppard’s brace propelled Cork City six points clear at the top of the SSE Airtricity League as they maintained their recent sequence of good results over champions Dundalk.

The 26-year-old had the vast majority of the 6,746 at Turner’s Cross in raptures when he broke the deadlock in the 22nd minute after the visitors were badly exposed on the counter attack.

And Stephen Kenny’s men were left with a mountain to climb when Sheppard took advantage of more indecision in the Lilywhites back four to catch Dane Massey on the hop before rounding Gary Rogers to roll the ball home.

Dundalk were far from at their best and it looked like they were going to go down without a fight until substitute David McMillan dragged them back into the game with a classy 78th-minute finish.

That set up a tense finish but Cork City never looked like relinquishing their lead and Ciaran Kilduff was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence with five minutes to play, putting the cap on another miserable day on Leeside for the champions.

Dundalk took part in the warm-up wearing t-shirts with the number five emblazoned on the back in tribute to the late Ryan McBride.

Two of McBride’s fellow Derrymen — Michael Duffy and the in-form Patrick McEleney — were named in the Dundalk line-up, as was Chris Shields, the midfielder making his first start of the season.

The hosts came into the game looking to make it six wins from their past seven games against Dundalk but they had to plan without their injured captain, Greg Bolger.

The game was less than 60 seconds old when Sean Maguire had alarm bells ringing in an uncertain looking Dundalk penalty area but he couldn’t force the ball home from a tight angle.

A fifth minute round of applause was in full flow for McBride when Robbie Benson and Karl Sheppard collided in the middle of the park. The Dundalk player failed to recover, going off to be replaced by Conor Clifford.

That change played a part as the half wore on with Dundalk struggling for creativity in Benson’s absence.

Cork looked the more likely in the final third and Kevin O’Connor’s inswinging free from the right almost found the outstretched leg of Alan Bennett. In any event, the assistant’s flag would have come to Dundalk’s rescue.

The tackles started to fly in with referee Rob Rogers deciding that a lecture was sufficient punishment after a couple of late tackles from Conor McCormack, Garry Buckley and Gearoid Morrissey.

Dundalk started to knock the ball around with a bit more intent and O’Connor did brilliantly to get in ahead of the incoming Mountney at the back post in the 21st minute.

The natives hit the front from the subsequent corner. Shields was dispossessed on the right by Stephen Dooley and Cork broke at speed, Maguire leaving Clifford in his wake to burst into the penalty area and square it for Sheppard to tap home.

Duffy fired high into grateful arms of the home supporters in The Shed shortly after. He fared better six minutes later, forcing McNulty into his first save of the day wth Kilduff going down in the aftermath. Rogers waved away the penalty appeals.

Things went from bad to worse for Dundalk in the next passage of play. It looked like Dane Massey was in charge when a crossfield pass from Maguire made its way to his side of the pitch.

However, Sheppard reacted quickest, coming from the blindside, nipping in ahead of the Dundalk full-back to round Rogers and roll the ball into an empty net and give the hosts a firm grip of the game at the break.

Dundalk needed a big response and Duffy cut in from the left to test McNulty with a stinging effort just three minutes after the restart.

Clifford became the second Dundalk midfielder to make way with an injury, the former Chelsea man sensibly ordered off the field by physio Fearghal Kerin in the 53rd minute after getting hit, smack bang with a ball straight in the face.

The yellow cards started to accumulate with Gartland booked for a hefty tackle on Sheppard and Maguire following suit for a late challenge on Paddy Barrett just past the hour.

City’s hitman was denied minutes earlier by Barrett, who recovered to get a good block on Maguire’s effort when it initially looked like he was second best from Buckley’s slide rule pass.

Kenny turned to his bench, sending on Thomas Stewart and David McMillan and his top scorer from last season answered the call, hauling Dundalk back into the game with 18 minutes to play.

McEleney’s angled ball found Kilduff on the edge of the penalty area and McMillan converted his lay-off, leaving McNulty helpless down to his left.

Kilduff’s late tackle on the excellent McCormack saw his day come to an end prematurely with five minutes to play.

Dundalk continued to throw men forward in a bid to pull it out of the fire and Dane Massey fired over in the dying stages but Cork City held on to claim what could be an invaluable three points.

CORK CITY: Mark McNulty; Jimmy Keohane, Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Kevin O’Connor; Conor McCormack, Gearoid Morrissey; Karl Sheppard, Gary Buckley (Achille Campion 76), Stephen Dooley (Shane Griffin 90); Sean Maguire (Connor Ellis 90). Subs not used: John Kavanagh, Christian Nanetti, Conor McCarthy, Alan Smith (GK).

DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon, Paddy Barrett, Brian Gartland, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Conor Clifford 8) (Thomas Stewart 54); John Mountney (David McMillan 69), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; Ciaran Kilduff. Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (GK), Jamie McGrath, Sean Hoare, Niclas Vemmelund.

REFEREE: Rob Rogers. ATTENDANCE: 6,746.

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