SSE Airtricity League Report: Rebels extend league lead with Sheppard double
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division:
Cork City 2-1 Dundalk
By Caoimhín Reilly
It didn’t rain, but it poured for Dundalk at a sunny Leeside on Saturday afternoon. Karl Sheppard’s first-half brace sealed Cork City’s sixth league win on the bounce but in many ways, the actual result was irrelevant as ghosts from the champions’ past demonised themselves once more.
The fact that both Cork goals came from diabolical Dundalk defending was not even the most disappointing element, rather their lack of spark in attack is certainly the more cause for concern despite David McMillan opening his 2017 account in the second-half.
While the knocks picked up by Robbie Benson (hamstring) and Conor Clifford (concussion) compounded a forgettable day for Stephen Kenny, who must also plan for next Friday’s Louth derby without the suspended Ciaran Kilduff; who received his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
Both of Sheppard’s strikes came at times were the Lilywhites were in control, although creating little. Perhaps it was the dried-out surface or the fact that the Rebels were incredibly organised, but Dundalk never got in behind the opposition back four once in 97 minutes of play.
And when they did eventually come with a late rush they gave Mark McNulty little to deal with. Indeed, Michael Duffy was the only one to meaningfully test the keeper having seen shots in either half well saved.
There were credible penalty calls too with Kilduff seemingly felled by Ryan Delaney minutes before half-time, although the strongest appeals came in injury time when Stephen Dooley appeared to handle inside the area with the locals relieved to see referee Rob Rogers dismiss Dundalk’s remonstrators.
The hosts offered little more in attack and often the service into Séan Maguire was tailor made for Brian Gartland and Paddy Barrett to intercept.
Barrett dealt well with the one-to-one situations but otherwise he endured a very testing day. His tendency to over complicate things merely causes problems, issues that his predecessor Andy Boyle didn’t often encounter.
And while his partnership with Gartland has potential, the Waterford man ought to take less chances and concentrate more on his primary role before attempting to take on opponents from the last line of defence.
The Rebels’ opening goal came direct from a Dundalk corner which saw Chris Shields concede possession inside enemy territory before Séan Gannon was caught out by Maguire who raced clear to put Sheppard’s second of the season on a plate.
It all stemmed from Dundalk’s clearest opening of the half which saw Kevin O’Connor head clear just as it looked like John Mountney was going to put the visitors ahead.
And when McNulty punched the resultant corner clear, Shields was first to the it and instead of pumping it back into the area he attempted to dribble away from Stephen Dooley – who dispossessed him before playing a perfect ball down the line for Maguire to latch on to.
Dane Massey was another to find the going tough. The defender has a history of with Sheppard’s pace, although it was nothing to do with the Cork man’s speed that saw the hosts double their advantage eight minutes from the break.
Maguire’s raking ball towards the right flank looked a formality for Massey to either clear or nod back to Gary Rogers, who began to advance from his goal in anticipation of what was to come.
The left-back’s hesitancy was palpable and it allowed Sheppard to skip through, round Rogers and finish left-footed to the net sending Turners Cross into raptures.
Rogers didn’t cover himself in glory either and he was another under the microscope having had a clearance taken off his toe by Maguire inside the opening 60 seconds, only to recover and save the striker’s shot.
Despite their shortcomings at both ends, Dundalk certainly didn’t deserve to be going to the break two goals down. The Rebels were clinical when they got their opportunities but those apart they were distinctly ordinary, just well organised.
With Jimmy Keohane, a natural winger, playing as the right full-back; Dundalk needed to get at him and they did so after the interval. And having started well the doubts began to creep back into the south-west venue as the hosts continued to fall deeper and deeper into their own half.
Patrick McEleney became more noticeable while Thomas Stewart added a missing ingredient by driving at Cork’s nervy backline. They still failed to test McNulty until Duffy took the best out of him at his near post midway through the half.
Cork, attacking the Shed End, rarely threatened and, a few corners which Rogers dealt with apart, they didn’t look interested in getting a third.
A third they could have done with when substitute McMillan got Dundalk off the mark with on 73 minutes when half-volleying Kilduff’s lay-off into to the corner of the net.
And, from that, you would like to say the Lilywhites threw the kitchen sink at Cork; but they didn’t. Instead, their numerous attacks either ended with McNulty gathering or the ball drifting out of play.
Kilduff was sent-off for a tackle on Conor McCormack as Cork held on. But it was something about the league leaders’ mentality in the second-half which offers hope.
Have you ever seen Dundalk defend a 2-0 lead?
Cork City: Mark McNulty; Jimmy Keohane, Alan Bennett, Ryan Delaney, Kevin O’Connor; Gearóid Morrissey, Conor McCormack, Garry Buckley (Achille Campion 76); Karl Sheppard, Séan Maguire (Connor Ellis 89), Stephen Dooley (Shane Griffin 90)
Subs not used: Alan Smith (gk), John Kavanagh, Christian Nanetti, Conor McCarthy
Booked: Maguire (61)
Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Séan Gannon, Brian Gartland, Paddy Barrett, Dane Massey; Chris Shields, Robbie Benson (Conor Clifford 8) (Michael Stewart 54); John Mountney (David McMillan 69), Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy; Ciaran Kilduff
Subs not used: Gabriel Sava (gk), Niclas Vemmelund, Séan Hoare, Jamie McGrath
Booked: Kilduff (41), Gartland (56),
Red Card: Kilduff (85)
Referee: Rob Rogers
Man of the Match: Karl Sheppard (Cork City)