It was one of the best nights at the Brandywell for some time.
Fans roared with joy and Derry players embraced one another, why? Because Derry City beat current league champions and league leaders Shamrock Rovers 1-0 at the Brandywell. The win means that Stephen Kenny’s team move to within one point of Rovers.
The Foylesiders may have taken the lead through a fortuitous Daniel Lafferty free-kick but the real hero of the night was goalkeeper Gerard Doherty; his performance was world class. Doherty came to life in the second half when he made no less than three magnificent saves to make sure that Derry emerged with three valuable points.
Doherty’s display was so elegant and outstanding that it threatened to transcend the significance of the result.
Derry huffed and puffed their way through the first half and despite enjoying most of the possession they could not force the ball over the Shamrock Rovers’ goal line.
The Candy Stripes didn’t have too long to wait for their first attempt on goal when in the third minute Eamon Zayed laid the ball off to James McClean outside the Rovers’ penalty area. McClean’s shot was extremely tame and was easily gathered by Alan Mannus.
A James McClean corner found defender Stewart Greacen at the back post in the sixth minute but despite the Scot’s best efforts he put his header wide.
James McClean found team mate Zayed with a decent pass in the 16th minute but the Libyan international’s shot flashed wide of the post.
Derry should have taken the lead in the 23rd minute when after a fantastic run on the left James McClean crossed to Stephen McLaughlin. With virtually an entire net to aim at the sprinting McLaughlin attempted to get height on his header but it was to his detriment as it travelled over the crossbar.
Another corner from James McClean tempted many fans to rise from their seats in the 26th minute. McClean’s floated cross into the area was perfect but Stewart Greacen and Daniel Lafferty failed to connect and the ball was cleared into touch for a corner.
Zayed tried once more to out-smart Mannus from outside the area when Lafferty found him with a pass. Zayed’s attempt lacked power but as it bobbed along the surface the Rovers goalkeeper was forced to tip it around the post.
Derry enjoyed virtually all of the play in the opening 30 minutes and created most, if not all of, the chances. However, Rovers reminded them why many predict they will lift the league trophy for a second consecutive year when Gary Twigg found space at the near post to fire a shot towards goal. Twigg’s angle from which he shot was narrow to say the least and Derry ‘keeper Gerard Doherty reacted quickly to deny the Rovers’ striker.
Derry’s best chance of the half came in the 39th minute when Patrick McEleney raced with former Derry defender Ken Oman for the ball on the right. Despite reaching the ball first, Oman almost gifted Derry the lead when he played the ball back to his keeper; instead of finding Mannus he found the lurking Eamon Zayed.
Zayed tried his best to put the ball between Mannus’s legs but it rebounded into the path of McEleney; the Derry teenager square passed the ball to Zayed but just as he was about to roll it into the net it was cleared into touch by the late arriving Craig Sives.
One time Candy Stripe, Billy Dennehy sprinted past both Shane McEleney and Ryan McBride in the 43rd minute before sending a low pass across the Derry goal. It was a decent pass by Dennehy but somehow Ciaran Kilduff shot wide.
A superb Ruaidhri Higgins pass in the 45th minute almost led to Derry taking the lead just before half-time. Higgins’s glorious pass found McLaughlin on the right who laid the ball off to McClean just outside the Derry area. McClean’s cross was perfectly weighted but despite several headed attempts in front of the Rovers’ goal Derry could not force the ball over the line.
It would be fair to suggest that Rovers ‘‘keeper Allan Mannus might want to forget to the 54th minute of the match forever as his mistake led to Derry taking the lead.
Rovers conceded a free-kick approximately 25 yards from goal. Derry left-back Daniel Lafferty attempted to curl the ball around the wall, towards the right hand post. All Mannus had to do was catch the ball but he hesitated, lost control and it bobbled into the net.
Derry’s man-of-the-moment James McClean had the chance to impress all of the managers and scouts who had turned up to watch him play when he was presented with a fantastic chance to score in the 65th minute.
Eamon Zayed laid the ball off to McLaughlin who pulled off what can only be described as an exquisite pass to the sprinting McClean on the left. McClean’s first touch was good but as he raced towards goal his shot found the side netting.
After taking the lead Derry looked like a team abounding in confidence and guile. Some of the passing, tackling and communication between the Derry players was top class and they were good value for their 1-0 lead.
Rovers were determined to net an equaliser and their objective was almost realised in the 72nd minute but Gary Twigg headed over the bar from close range.
Three minutes later and Twigg thought he had scored. After volleying the ball towards goal Gerard Doherty’s finger tip save failed to take the power off the ball. The ball was about to cross the line but somehow Doherty connected a second time to deny Rovers the equaliser.
Twigg’s header was millimetres from crossing the line and after Doherty’s double save Twigg raced towards the referee claiming that the ball had crossed the line.
McClean almost found the back of the net with fantastic left foot drive in the 78th minute but Mannus dived high into the air to tip the ball away from goal.
Gerard Doherty made yet another world class save in the 84th minute when he tipped a Dennehey free-kick onto the post. It was a remarkable save from the Creggan man to say the least and his delight was evident as he fist pumped the air with both hands.
Stephen McLaughlin found James McClean totally unmarked in the 90th minute but as the Creggan Heights winger burst into the area he fired his shot wide of the post.
Next up for Derry City is an away trip to Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds next Friday.
DERRY CITY: Gerard Doherty; Shane McEleney, Daniel Lafferty, Stewart Greacen, Ryan Bride; Barry Molloy, Ruaidhri Higgins, Stephen McLaughlin, James McClean; Patrick McEleney (Ruairi Harkin 73 mins), Eamon Zayed.
Subs not used: Emmett Friars; David McDaid; Thomas McGonigle; Eugene Ferry; Michael McCrudden; James Henry.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Alan Mannus; Pat Sullivan, Enda Stevens, Craig Sives, Stephen Rice (Chris Turner 58 mins); Gary McCabe (Dean Kelly 58 mins), Gary Twigg, Ciaran Kilduff (Stephen O’Donnell 73 mins), Ken Oman; Billy Dennehy, Ronan Finn.
Subs not used: Dan Murray; Ryan Thompson; Gary O’Neill; Sean Gannon.
REFEREE: Mr. Damian Hancock (Dublin).