A FRUSTRATED Kenny Shiels said his players were 'shocked' after losing their unbeaten start to the season in the most dramatic of circumstances late on against Bray Wanderers at Maginn Park tonight.
Tim Clancy popped up to head home the winning goal in stoppage time to inflict a first defeat on Shiels' troops who had battled back from a two goal first half deficit after two well executed strikes from Gary McCabe and Aaron Greene.
Shiels then lost the club's two most senior players in Rory Patterson who was rushed to hospital with a shin injury after just 31 minutes and captain, Gerard Doherty at the half-time interval after the goalkeeper picked up a thigh injury. And the Derry boss felt 'everything that could go wrong went wrong' on the night.
However, the home side showed remarkable character in the spirit of their late inspirational captain, Ryan McBride who was honoured prior to kick-off with a touching tribute from the 'City Cubs' who released red and white balloons following a minute's applause.
The club's U19 representatives also formed the number five on the pitch in recognition of the former skipper who wore it so proudly on his back for seven years while the players, who had walked onto the pitch wearing shirts with 'McBride' on the back, also wore black armbands bearing the number five. It was a beautiful tribute to the much loved centre half as his family and friends looked on from the terraces.
And he would certainly have been proud of the fighting spirit shown by his teammates as they fought back in the second half courtesy of a penalty kick from Aaron McEneff and a beautifully taken goal from Dean Jarvis with five minutes to go.
After that deft finish over the head of Bray keeper, Peter Cherrie, who was in inspired form, Derry looked the likeliest to go on and complete what would have been a stunning comeback.
However, former Hibs defender and a one time target of Derry City, Clancy came up with the goods in the dying seconds to head home substitute, Darragh Noone's corner kick for a win which was difficult to accept for Shiels after watching his side dominate the ball and the scoring chances on the night.
"It wouldn't have happened in normal circumstances had Gerard (Doherty) not got the injury," said the Derry boss. "Everything that could go wrong went wrong tonight. The boys deserve so much credit.
"You have to be honest and say it could have been a big (winning) margin for us but we missed so many chances. There was three situations when the ball hit the keeper in the head and one on the shoulder and another one hit him somewhere else - it just hit him and we have to take some blame for missing those chances. Overall I was delighted with the performance I really was.
"They showed great character," he continued. "If you include Ryan (McBride) in that, we lost three senior players and the lads dug in and worked hard and we played really good football at times. How they won the match we don't know. The boys are shocked. To lose the game the way we did is just so hard to take."
And Shiels felt his side weren't helped by the performance of match referee, Derek Tomney who he reckoned got some of the big decisions wrong.
"We had a referee unfortunately who didn't administer the rules and their goalkeeper and players were taking 30 or 40 seconds for throw-ins or goal kicks. It was just so absurd and the referee didn't do anything about it.
"(Gary) McCabe, you seen his dive for the goal. It might show that different on the TV but he was diving about. And the free-kick against Aaron Barry was ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous but that's the cards that went against us tonight.
"I'm disappointed for the players because they put so much into it. We didn't pick up for the corner at the end. But we shouldn't have given away the corner in the first place. If we had of had Gerard (Doherty) he would have communicated that to Dean (Jarvis) to let it go for a goalkick but we had a young keeper in and these things are sent to test us."
It was an emotionally charged night at Maginn as City took to the field for the first time since McBride's sudden death shocked the club and while his absence was sorely missed, Shiels felt his side coped with the occasion brilliantly.
"I don't think the emotions of the game were evident. There was no emotional disadvantage for us because the players played brilliantly and they deserved to win the game. There's no contradiction to that. They deserved to win the game and win it well.
"I don't think anyone can say the team which won deserved to win the game because they got a free-kick which wasn't a free-kick. It was a good execution but a mistake from the referee. They got a free-kick which led to a corner which wasn't a free-kick - two mistakes from the referee. And the third goal my goalkeeper was injured. Apart from that my goalkeeper could have worn his Sunday suit in goals.
"You could see the boys were up for the game and we dominated for long spells. I can't fault them in any way at all."
City had welcomed back Patterson and Conor McDermott who had both returned for the first time since sustaining their respective injuries in the opening game of the season at Dalymount Park as Shiels opted for three at the back for the first time this season.
And Patterson was in the thick of the action early on and should have opened his season's account when McEneff's cross was flicked towards the back post but the City striker failed to apply the vital touch.
The ball fell kindly to Patterson, who had peeled off his man at the back post, from Nicky Low's corner on nine minutes but his snap-shot went wide of the target. And Patterson tried his luck again on 14 minutes as he made a yard on the edge of the penalty area and his curling effort went wide of the upright.
From a short corner two minutes later McNamee clipped the ball into the six yard area and Patterson's header was flicked onto the crossbar superbly by Peter Cherrie's outstretched hand. The ball fell to McNamee at the back post and his diving header crashed off the post and the chance was lost.
For all of Derry's dominance it was the visitors who took the lead on 28 minutes courtesy of McCabe's terrific bending free-kick from 25 yards - his sixth goal of the season.
One minute later Schubert found himself in on goal but the Austrian's strike on the volley was parried away by Cherrie.
Derry suffered another blow when Patterson's evening came to an end after picking up a knee injury but the Candystripes didn't let up. Ronan Curtis powered his header over the bar from eight yards from McEneff's corner kick as the Derry attacks began to build momentum. From another corner Dean Jarvis hooked the ball towards the back post and it almost crept into the net.
Bray doubled their lead 60 seconds before the break against the run of play and it was a classy finish from Greene which gave the Seagulls the cushion going into the interval. The Bray striker latched onto a long punt upfield from Hugh Douglas and blasted his first time strike into the far corner past the helpless Gerard Doherty.
Two stunning strikes were the difference at half-time but Derry will have been regretting a plethora of missed chances.
But City's night was to get worse as captain, Doherty failed to come out for the second half having sustained an injury and he was replaced by Eric Grimes. And former Leeds United and Cork City keeper, Grimes was soon called into action as he did superbly to parry clear McCabe's dangerous free-kick from the edge of the box.
At the other end Nathan Boyle reacted quickest to the loose ball and blasted towards goal on the half volley but Cherrie produced a fantastic reaction save to deny the City striker.
City finally got their just rewards on 64 minutes when McEneff was bundled over inside the area by Conor Kenna and the referee pointed to the spot. McEneff stood up confidently and sent Cherrie the wrong way from the spotkick.
Curtis was presented with a glorious chance to equalise with 12 minutes left on the clock when Lukas Schubert played him through with a neat pass but he delayed his shot and Kenna crucially dispossessed him.
Derry deservedly equalised following an outstanding strike from left back Jarvis who lifted the ball over the head of Cherrie and into the net with five minutes to go.
But Clancy delivered that powerful header from a corner kick right at the death to take maximum points for the visitors.
Derry City: G. Doherty (E. Grimes h-t); C. McDermott, A. Barry, D. Jarvis; N. Low, A. .McEneff; L. Schubert, B. McNamee, R. Curtis; R. Patterson (Daniels 31), N. Boyle (M. Kennedy 65); Subs Not Used - H. Monaghan,R. Holden, B. Doherty, S. Whiteside.
Bray: P. Cherrie; H. Douglas, C. Kenna, T. Clancy, C. Earley (A. Kehoe 38); K. Buckley ( J. Marks 74), M. Salmon, J. Sullivan, D. Connolly; G. McCabe (D. Noone 79); A. Greene; Subs Not Used - L .Steacy, D. Foran, J. Aherne, G. Pender.
Referee - Derek Tomney (Dublin).