Derry City book spot in next round of Sports Direct FAI Cup as late brace beats Athlone Town
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Derry City 3, Athlone Town 0
Derry City continued their FAI Cup love affair with an 'emphatically unemphatic' first round defeat of First Division Athlone Town at Brandywell on Sunday.
In the end it was 'job done' thanks to injury time goals from Brandon Kavanagh and substitute Michael Duffy but this was far from enthralling stuff for long periods.
Sandwiched between two huge European dates on what is becoming an increasingly congested Candystriped calendar, there was always going to be a touch of 'second son syndrome' about the tie, a fact reflected in the unusually meagre attendance which only added to the unusually flat atmosphere.
Those circumstances contrived to ensure Derry's first hurdle in the defence of the trophy they won so memorably last season in the Aviva Stadium would be a potential banana skin against Athlone's multi-national line-up and, to that end, Ruaidhri Higgins can be more than happy with the afternoon's work.
It was a case of: Victory - check. Clean sheet - check. Three goals - check. Players rested - check. No new injuries - check. Now on to Europe and Thursday's meeting with KuPS!
That was the good. The bad, however, was the frustratingly long time Derry took to put the tie to bed. The Candy Stripes with always in control and clearly the better side but their (at times) pedestrian pace played into Athlone's plan to sit deep soak up pressure. Too much of the home play was in front of what was admittedly a packed visitors' rearguard and it took the 57th minute introduction of Patrick McEleney, Michael Duffy and Cameron Dummigan to inject some much need urgency and intensity.
Once Derry had stepped on the accelerator spaces began to appear, yet it still took until the 92nd and 94th minutes for that dominance to finally be translated to the scoreboard after Will Patching's 22nd minutes penalty had edged Derry in front in the opening half.
Work to do then without doubt, but considering Higgins was able to make SEVEN changes from the team that defeated HB Torshavn on Thursday evening, he can be content with the eventually comfortable progress.
From that narrow Europa Conference League win, in came Tadhg Ryan, Shane McEleney, Ciaran Coll, Brandon Kavanagh, Jordan McEneff, Danny Mullen and Cian Kavanagh. For Ryan it was a competitive debut for the club after his close season move and he acquitted himself well throughout.
As expected, Derry bossed the ball for most of the opening exchanges but with the impressive Pat Hickey and Noah Van Geenen at the heart of the defence, Athlone were well set up and in lone front man, Frantz Pierrot, they had a striker who proved a real handful for the home defenders.
Yet Derry always had the greater quality and that quality told on 22 minutes as the Brandywell men hit the front from the penalty spot. A quickly taken free saw Brandon Kavanagh get on the wrong side of van Geenen with the big centre-back's rather clumsy challenge bundling Kavanagh to the ground. Referee Oliver Moran had no hesitation and pointed to the spot. Up stepped Patching to side foot home from 12 yards and Derry had the start they wanted.
Moments later Town keeper Enda Minogue made a big save to deny Kavanagh when the right winger's left footed strike was well parried away.
The visitors created their first real chance just after the half-hour mark but their leading marksman Pierrot fired over from close range after he had initially controlled the ball well to engineer space in the penalty area.
The second half followed a similar pattern of Derry pressure and Athlone resistance. Kavanagh saw a tame effort saved by Minogue while but otherwise there was a distinct lack of goalmouth action.
McEleney and Duffy injected increased both the quality and intensity but Patching's spot-kick remined the only goal as Mullen was twice denied in promising situations. Chances were proving hard to come by with McEleney’s clever switches of play appearing the most likely method by which Athlone would be opened up.
With the game drifting into injury time, Derry finally made the game safe. Almost inevitably it was McEleney who was the architect, floating a lovely penalty area pass to Kavanagh. The winger had plenty to do but his delightful first touch on the knee bought him just enough space to fire a left footed finish beyond Minogue's right hand and into the far corner.
And before the celebrations had died down, Derry had a third. Much of the credit this time went to substitute Jamie McGonigle who chased a long ball and reversed a lovely pass inside to Ciaran Coll who picked out the supporting McEleney. 'Fats' shaped to shoot from 30 yards but spotted Michael Duffy's well timed run which took out the Athlone offside trap. An inch perfect pass allowed Duffy to plant his header beyond Minogue and Derry were home and hosed.
Job done. Time to find those European dancing shoes!
Derry City: Tadhg Ryan, Ronan Boyce, Shane McEleney, Cameron McJannet, Ciaran Coll; Sadou Diallo (Cameron Dummigan, 57), Will Patching, Jordan McEneff Patrick McEleney, 57); Brandon Kavanagh, Danny Mullen (Jamie McGonigle, 81), Cian Kavanagh (Paul McMullan, 57).
Athlone Town: Enda Minogue, Noah Van Geenen, Daniel McKenna, Patrick Hickey, Aaron Connolly, Frantz Pierrot, Hajl Abdlkadir (Dylan Gavin, 80), Jamar Campion-Hinds, Matthew Leal (Jack Kavanagh, 66), Michael Peprah (Matthew Baker, 80), Néhémie Larntoukou (Valerii Dolia, 83).
Referee: Mr Oliver Moran.