FAI Cup semi-final: Bohemians v Cork City, Dalymount Park, 5.45pm
IS it too dramatic to say that Cork City’s season rests on a knife-edge?
Victory on Sunday would keep alive the last hope of major silverware. While an FAI Cup win wouldn’t make up for the way the league has been surrendered, it would deny Dundalk a domestic double (assuming the Lilywhites beat UCD in the first semi-final tonight).
Two years ago, City doing similar provided consolation at the end of a disappointing season and laid the foundations for the 2017 title win.
However, defeat to Bohemians would mean a continuation of the poor form which has characterised the past two months. Since the 2-1 win away to Waterford on August 3 – a third victory in a row – City have won three games from nine and all three, against Home Farm, Maynooth University Town and Longford Town, have come in the cup.
Both Europa League third qualifying round games against Rosenborg were lost and obviously there is no disgrace in that but four league games have produced just one point, a draw at home to St Patrick’s Athletic as Josh O’Hanlon scored a late equaliser. Sandwiching the Longford game are league defeats against Sligo Rovers – having led at Turner’s Cross before doing down 2-1 – Bohemians and, most recently, champions-elect Dundalk.
While the Sligo game could be said to have been balanced on fine margins, with Kieran Sadlier unlucky to hit the post with a free-kick as City led 1-0, and Dundalk performing better than anyone, the Bohs game two weeks ago is the real standout.
Four first-half goals were conceded for the first time in John Caulfield’s tenure as manager and it was unsurprising to hear him say after the game that it was the worst 45 minutes since he had taken over.
Pretty much anything that could have gone wrong did so, apart from Graham Cummins’ goal which briefly threatened to get City back in the game at 3-1.
Damien Delaney took a lot of the criticism for his part in the Gypsies’ goals, but all round it was a night to forget, with City’s play betraying a sloppiness from the start.
Bohs went into that game on the back of six straight wins in all competitions and since then they have beaten Derry City in the quarter-final of the cup and then had a 3-1 win away to St Patrick’s Athletic last weekend with what was effectively a scratch team as Keith Long rested his first 11.
With nine straight wins for the home side and City having endured the travails mentioned above, the form-lines are stark but yet the bookmakers still make the Rebel Army second favourites behind Dundalk to lift the cup. Obviously, that is a different scenario to just looking at Sunday’s game, but it still points to the fact that City have not become a bad team overnight.
Last Friday did at least provide some defensive solidity, albeit against a Dundalk team that scored in the third minute and didn’t need to push for a second. One would imagine that Conor McCarthy and Seán McLoughlin will be given a vote of confidence there, while it remains to be seen if the options are improved by the return of Barry McNamee and O’Hanlon.
Neither was involved last week, with City assistant manager John Cotter denying the pair had been sanctioned by management. Karl Sheppard was also absent and his return would certainly be welcomed, having been one of the better performers in the league game at Dalymount, assisting Cummins’ and Jimmy Keohane’s goals.
On the other flank, Kieran Sadlier remains an enigma, not short on skill but sometimes seemingly lacking confidence. He missed the league game and right-back Derek Pender excelled for Bohs – if Sadlier were to put him on the back-foot, it may be a different story.
Keith Ward in midfield also has to be nullified while Shane Griffin will be looking to limit the damage that Daniel Kelly can inflict, with the former Bray man excellent two weeks ago. In attack, Dinny Corcoran will work tirelessly and if he is called ashore Eoghan Stokes is a more-than-able replacement.