GERARD Doherty was a surprise inclusion in the Derry City starting line-up on Friday night after sitting out training and struggling with a troublesome hip injury.
And despite producing several superb saves on the night, he was beaten by what, he claims, was ‘an avoidable goal’ from Dundalk match winner, Dane Massey.
The Creggan man passed a pre-match fitness test and Peter Hutton will have been grateful he played through the pain barrier as he kept Dundalk at bay despite their dominance in a first half where the home side struggled to get out of their own half.
With just four minutes gone Dundalk could so easily have found the back of the net when Ronan Finn’s low cross to the near post was poked towards goal by David McMillan but Doherty stood tall and reacted quickly to parry clear.
He might not have known too much about that one but on the half hour mark he raced out of his area as McMillan found himself clean through on goal and bravely blocked with his feet to deny the Dundalk striker a second time. Admittingly that chance was created following a misplaced kick-out from the Derry stopper.
The Derry defence as a whole must also be applauded for limiting Dundalk’s potent attack to those two clear cut chances in the opening 45 minutes with Shane McEleney in particular, showing glimpses of his best form as he partnered returning skipper, Ryan McBride at the heart of the backline.
As far as the saves, I suppose a few of them were basic saves. It was one of those games when they took their best chance and we didn’tGerard Doherty
Doherty came to his side’s rescue with a terrific save from Ronan Finn’s first time shot on the edge of the Derry area two minutes into the second half.
But there was a stark improvement from Derry after the break, galvanised after a clever move involving Shaun Kelly who cut the ball back into the path of Philip Lowry who fired over the bar on the stretch.
During a promising 20 minute spell for the Candy Stripes, Ryan Curran - who was isolated for much of the game - had a shot deflected wide from close range while the lively Mark Timlin was denied what seemed a certain goal when Massey lunged in with an important last ditch tackle.
The Dundalk left-back showed his attacking prowess eight minutes later when splitting Derry’s defence with a diagonal run and racing onto Finn’s clever throughball before driving the ball into the far corner of the net.
It was a goal Doherty could do nothing about but it was scored at the worst possible time, knocking the stuffing out of any momentum Derry had managed to create.
And Doherty, who played down his role in the game, felt his side could have got something from the contest had they had more belief in themselves after conceding that goal.
The Derry goalkeeper also revealed that the Derry City players will dissect every single goal conceded this season in an attempt to eradicate mistakes and to ‘get everything out in the open’ this season.
“All the goals are avoidable but we’ll sit down and look at it,” said Doherty. “We’re going to look at all the goals we concede this season and we’ll talk about them and get them out in the open and see what we can do.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now. We definitely have things to work on but to be fair to the boys they’ve worked hard all night.
“Ryan’s (McBride) come in for his first game back and played with Shane (McEleney) and I thought they were both excellent.
“Things like that happen and I think we were just unlucky we couldn’t get a clear cut chance ourselves and take it. I don’t think it was a 1-0 game to be honest.”
Dundalk did look slick on the ball and it was the mark of champions to grind out a result despite a brave effort from Derry. But Doherty believes the Brandywell club aren’t too far off that standard at present.
“They’re the champions and they’re coming up here full of confidence but we’re not a kick away from that. We just have to have a bit more belief. First half we lacked a bit of belief but we can take the positives from the second half as we played a lot better.
“But on the flip side of that we should be starting games better. We did it last week as well but it’ll take time and take a couple of games for us to get up to speed. .”
Doherty claimed he was just 80 per cent fit for the game after sustaining that hip injury in training.
“The last couple of days I got good treatment so I wasn’t too worried. I missed a couple of days training which wasn’t ideal but I felt alright going into the game.
“As far as the saves, I suppose a few of them were basic saves. It was one of those games when they took their best chance and we didn’t.”
The Brandywell surface wasn’t conducive to free-flowing football and Doherty felt the Derry back five struggled to play the ball out.
“We just couldn’t get out. It was a bit of bad distribution, a bit of bad play from ourselves and we couldn’t get the ball down and play out from the back. The ball was just bobbling all around the place so that wasn’t an option.
“We knew coming down the hill in the second half would be a different story and it played out that way.”
After Massey’s strike, Patrick McEleney who made some terrific lung-busting runs through the middle to no end, won a free-kick right on the edge of the Dundalk area in the final minute.
However his curling effort struck a teammate and it disappointingly went behind for goal kick as the game petered out to a close.