Dundalk's Pat Hoban celebrates his goal. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
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Hoban proves the hero as Dundalk get one over on title rivals Cork

The Lilywhites striker scored his third goal of the season in a pulsating affair at Oriel Park.

Dundalk 1

Cork City 0

Ben Blake reports from Oriel Park 

AFTER AN EARLY-season blip, Dundalk got their title challenge back on track as worthy winners in tonight’s SSE Airtricity League face-off with rivals Cork City.

Pat Hoban’s first-half goal after a mistake from Mark McNulty proved enough to close the gap on the Leesiders to a single point. Stephen Kenny’s side had plenty of chances to put the result to bed and even saw a penalty saved at an electric Oriel Park.

Just four weeks have passed since the two top sides in the country met here in the curtain-raising President’s Cup, when it was first blood to the 2017 double winners after a blistering second-half comeback.

Since then, Cork stormed to the top of the Premier Division table with maximum points from three games, while draws against Bray Wanderers and Shamrock Rovers left Dundalk with work to do even at this early stage.

But the Lilywhites started like a house on fire and went in front after four minutes. Conor McCormack brought down Pat Hoban 30 yards out from goal and Ronan Murray stepped up to take.

While hit with power, the shot was straight at McNulty. But the experienced City goalkeeper managed to spill it — allowing the lurking Hoban to pounce for his third league goal of the season.

Immediately after the restart, City captain McCormack found himself in referee Paul McLaughlin’s book dangerously early in the game for another foul.

The home side could smell blood and poured forward for a second. Massey’s low drive was pushed around the post by McNulty and Murray then saw his effort go behind off a Cork body.

Visiting manager John Caulfield wasn’t taking any chances and withdrew the cautioned McCormack after just 21 minutes to prevent him from picking up a likely red card.

On in the Louth native’s place came Barry McNamee. The attacking midfielder has looked a fine signing since arriving from Derry City in the off-season and immediately added to Cork’s attacking threat.

Just after the half-hour mark, McNamee raced onto a through-ball but Gary Rogers made himself big to keep out the attempt, and recent signing Dan Cleary got back on the line to hack away Sadlier’s follow-up.

Touted as one of the top talents in the league by his manager, ex-Ireland U21 international Sadlier was hugely-influential in the President’s Cup — setting up two and hitting a super goal. He was restricted to a couple of wayward attempts in the first 45 minutes tonight, though.

With the half-time whistle about to blow, Murray poked just wide of the post.

Tempers flare during the match Tempers flare as Steven Beattie and Dane Massey get to grips with one another. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Dundalk continued to cause problems to the City backline after the interval and Murray brought a save out of McNulty on 56 minutes, before Hoban nearly doubled his personal tally.

With just the one-goal advantage, City were still a threat, however. Garry Buckley headed goalwards after connecting with a corner but it was scrambled away.

McNulty saved once more from Murray and Massey’s rocket was tipped over by the City stopper shortly afterwards.

The Lilywhites appeared certain to double their lead on 73 minutes when Benson went down in the box under a challenge from Steven Beattie. The ex-UCD midfielder picked himself up to take responsibility from the spot, but McNulty guessed right to palm away.

A scuffle broke out on the pitch as the clocked ticked down and Benson then showed great skill to create an opening for himself late on, only to find the side-netting.

Both clubs will regroup, assess the damage and prepare for Monday, when Dundalk travel to Richmond Park and Cork host Shamrock Rovers.

DUNDALK: Gary Rogers; Seán Gannon, Daniel Cleary, Seán Hoare, Dane Massey; Chris Shields; Jamie McGrath (Dean Jarvis 90), Ronan Murray (Karolis Chvedukas 79), Robbie Benson, Michael Duffy; Patrick Hoban (Marco Tagbajumi 89).

CORK: Mark McNulty; Steven Beattie, Conor McCarthy, Aaron Barry, Shane Griffin; Gearóid Morrissey, Conor McCormack (Barry McNamee 21), Garry Buckley (Jimmy Keohane 78); Karl Sheppard, Graham Cummins, Kieran Sadlier.

Referee: Paul McLaughlin

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