DERRY City’s title aspirations may have been reduced to a whimper in Tallaght Stadium last night, a disastrous defensive error by the normally rock solid Stewart Greacen putting paid to what would have been remarkable feat this season.
EOIN BRADY reports from Dublin
Photographs: Lorraine o’Sullivan
There’s no doubt that Derry will be disappointed with this result as their first half performance had promised so much but, at the same time, the young “Candy Stripes” have done extremely well in this campaign and the priority must now turn to securing a place in the Europa League next season.
Also gone is Derry’s impressive unbeaten league record, 18 undefeated matches which had stretched back to May 26th, but they must now move on and attempt to accumulate the points required for Europe.
From a Shamrock Rovers perspective, they took full advantage of the error and that early second half goal provided them with the necessary platform on which to build that match-winning performance.
Brandywell boss, Stephen Kenny, opted to drop Ruaidhri Higgins from his midfield quartet in an effort to bring his midfield general, Barry Molloy, into the engine room
And with Shane McEleney switching to right-back, youngster, Ryan McBride, was presented with a central defensive role. In short Kenny had opened with the same back four which had served him so well in the 1-0 victory over Rovers at the Brandywell.
And the Dubliner will not have been unhappy with his side’s first half performance, Derry having dominated the scoring chances and, indeed, finished the opening half in the ascendancy.
But it took some time before the visitors got into their stride in what appeared a very tense and nervous encounter.
Rovers seemed to switch from a 4-5-1 formation to a 4-4-2 and back again to a 4-5-1 during the opening period as the visitors enjoyed the bulk of the possession.
But it was the home side who threatened first when, after just three minutes, Roan Ricketts’ in-swinging corner crashed off the Derry crossbar.
And seven minutes later Derry defender, Ryan McBride, was forced to hack the ball clear as Rovers again threatened following a Karl Sheppard cross from the left.
However, the visitors eventually settled and Gareth McGlynn really should have broken the deadlock in the 16th minute. Having been put through by Barry Molloy, the midfielder appeared to be caught in two minds and rather than shoot, the delay allowing Jim Paterson to produce a last ditch tackle and the chance was lost.
Danny Lafferty then went close with a free-kick from 20 yards, the ball swinging agonisingly wide of the upright while a McEleney shot was deflected before Eamon Zayed’s header was easily saved by Rovers keeper, Richard Brush.
With Derry continuing to push forward, Lafferty was shocked to see a Stephen McLaughlin corner arrive at his feet, the former Celtic player poking the ball wide from close range.
But Derry sustained a severe blow when Gareth McGlynn limped off with a calf injury in the 34th minute, Mark Farren summoned from the bench as Kenny was forced into a number of positional changes.
Farren joined Zayed in the front-line with Patrick McEleney pushed out onto the right flank and as the travelling fans were discussing that substitution, the visitors went so close to breaking the deadlock.
A Lafferty cross from the left in the 36th minute was met by Zayed and his header crashed against the post, the ball rebounding out into the keeper’s hands.
Rovers screamed for a penalty in the 40th minute after Ronan Finn’s cross appeared to have struck the arm of Molloy but Cork referee, Alan Kelly, refused to be convinced.
In short, Kenny’s half-time team-talk would have been a case of more of the same, his side finishing the opening period much the stronger and really should have been in front at the break.
Disaster Strikes “Candy Stripes”
But the positive attitude in the dressing room was distinguished within four minutes of the re-start when an uncharacteristic defensive error proved costly.
A long kick-out by the Rovers keeper was allowed to bounce with Greacen seemingly content to let it run through to keeper, Gerard Doherty who was well off his line. However the alert Rohan Ricketts had ghosted in from the left wing and seized on the indecision to lob the ball home over the stranded keeper.
Indeed, Rovers really should have doubled that lead minutes later when a cross from Paterson was headed back across the face of goal by Gary Twigg but Sive’s first time effort was grabbed by Doherty on his goal-line.
Rovers maintained the momentum as Derry were clearly frustrated at the goal and the “Candy Stripes” lost their way somewhat, the workrate and first half commitment having disappeared.
With the match now being played in the Derry half, the visiting fans hoped for a spark to reignite their hopes of getting back into the game but, with 20 minutes remaining, that continued to look unlikely.
Derry did have chances with both Shane McEleney and Ryan McBride going close as Derry eventually began to threaten.
With 15 minutes remaining Kenny went for broke when making a double substitution. Farren, who had entered the fray in 34th minute was called ashore with Ruairi Harkin entering the fray.
Ruaidhri Higgins was also introduced with centre-half, McBride, removed as Kenny threw caution to the wind opting for a ‘three at the back’ policy.
Rovers continued to attack and Finn, through on a one-on-one with Doherty, failed to take advantage in the 80th minute, the Derry keeper making the vital save.
However, Derry’s impressive workrate during the opening half was beginning to take its tole, the “Candy Stripes” appearing fatigued and heavy legged as the match drew to a close.
DERRY CITY – 4-4-2 – Gerard Doherty; Shane McEleney, Ryan McBride (Higgins, 75), Stewart Greacen, Daniel Lafferty; Gareth McGlynn (Mark Farren, 34, Harkin 75) Barry Molloy, Kevin Deery, Stephen McLaughlin; Eamon Zayed, Patrick McEleney.
SHAMROCK ROVERS – 4-4-2 - Richard Brush; Pat Sullivan, Craig Sives, Dan Murray, Jim Paterson; Ronan Finn, Stephen Rice, Chris Turner, Roan Ricketts (Gary McCabe, 73); Gary Twigg, Karl Sheppard (Billy Dennehy, 84).
REFEREE – Mr. A. Kelly (Cork).