A strange evening in the west for Derry City eventually concluded with a routine win over Galway United that edged the Candystripes to the summit of the Premier Division table.
The news surrounding James McClean’s departure dominated the conversations at Terryland Park, but Stephen Kenny’s team were still cool enough to eke out a convincing win.
Twenty two year-old McClean will travel to Sunderland for a medical tomorrow to seal a deal that will earn the Candystripes £300,000.
Even without McClean’s promptings from the left flank Derry were still way too classy for Galway, who slumped to a club record 20th defeat in a row.
Eamon Zayed converted an 11th minute penalty and added a second four minutes before the interval as Derry’s dominance was accurately reflected.
Galway did improve in the third quarter, but man of the match Patrick McEleney, who probed throughout, sealed the deal with a splendid 75th minute strike.
Unsurprisingly Derry boss Stephen Kenny cut a satisfied figure following the contest as Derry’s dramatic return to the top flight sees them lead the League with only 11 matches remaining.
“It was a good win, I thought we started well. To be fair to Conor Winn, he made a few smashing saves early on in the match and we could have got a few early goals. We got the penalty and Eamon scored it and then the second one just before half-time was a good headed finish.
“We didn’t start the second half well and Galway pinned us back a bit. Kim’s deliveries from set plays were exceptional, he had good deliveries from set plays, very flat deliveries with pace which are difficult to defend. Galway had a few situations like that, but the third goal was a great individual goal from Patrick McEleney which effectively killed the game.
“To be honest the club was on its knees not so long ago and everybody at the club has worked so hard to rebuild it step by step.
“We have based it on young players coming through our system essentially with a few players that had already come through the system in previous years with two new players mainly. It has been tremendous and we have got ourselves into a tremendous situation.
“It is a little kick in the teeth that we have lost two players now losing Gareth McGlynn in the Dublin Super Cup with a knee injury which was a disaster for us and James McClean obviously going to Sunderland. They are two big players for us to lose.”
Galway were unlikely to seriously test Derry’s mettle without McGlynn and McClean and the lead goal arrived in the 11th minute.
Bobby Ryan’s foul on Kevin Deery presented Zayed with a penalty opportunity and the in form striker duly obliged with a crisp finish.
A second was bagged on 41 when McEleney manufactured the chance for Zayed, who made a cute headed connection to steer the visitors further ahead.
Galway were in deep distress and despite a mini-revival after the restart Derry coped comfortably as McEleney decorated the triumph with 15 minutes remaining.
Kenny wants his promising panel of players to continue showing the drive and desire that has turned them into serious contenders at a crucial stage of the campaign.
“It is a big loss for us losing Gareth McGlynn with a knee injury for a fair period and James McClean having his medical at Sunderland. Losing two players of that magnitude for us with the transfer deadline gone is a huge test for us. We have got to show the resolute attitude that we have shown over the last year and three quarters.
“We have to show that in abundance because we have games against three of the top teams in St Patrick’s Athletic, Bohemians, and Sligo. We have to rally around each other now because it is a big blow losing two players like that.
“We wish James every success with Sunderland, he definitely deserves it, but we want to make sure as a club that we rally around each other with our performances between now and the end of the season.”
With the transfer window closed Kenny will be forced to promote from within as he seeks replacements for McGlynn and McClean to emerge. On the left side of midfield Stephen McLaughlin contributed handsomely to this Derry display and Kenny is encouraged by the options that are available to him presently.
“We have a lot of young players in the squad, that has been the policy at the club. We have players like David McDaid, Ruairi Harkin, Michael McCrudden, and Ryan McBride who are all going to have to come to the fore now. They are going to be crucial for us between now and the end of the season.
“It is difficult for Galway and we can empathise with them. It is a difficult situation, but for us to come away and win three nil you have to be happy with that.
“We have only lost three games this year, we have scored more goals than anyone else, and the players have been magnificent. I cannot ask for anything more from them. With James leaving and Gareth’s long term injury it is a real test for us now as a group and a squad and we have to be resolute. James wanted to play, but that is the way it goes.”
Galway United: Winn; Preston-Kelly, Browne, Gaughan, Walsh; Kim, Sinnott, G Kelly, Ryan (Gilmore, 55);Murphy, Caldwell (Collins, 51).
Derry City: Doherty; McCallion, Greacen, S McEleney, Friars; Deery (Harkin, 78), Higgins, Molloy, McLaughlin; P McEleney (McDaid, 80), Zayed.
Referee: N Doyle (Dublin).