Dundalk 3, Derry City 2
DERRY CITY threatened to spoil the party for champions elect Dundalk at Oriel Park with a second half comeback which ultimately fell short as the Lillywhites all but secured the Premier Division title.
Two goals inside four first half minutes had seemingly ended any challenge from the Candystripes who slumped to a 17th league defeat of the season.
Dan Cleary headed the Lilywhites into a 17th minute lead but the second Dundalk goal hurt Derry most as Michael Duffy and Patrick McEleney combined as the latter curled a beautiful strike into the net.
The game had the feel of a training match after that with Derry struggling to get out of their own half and Patrick Hoban fired in a third to equal the Premier Division scoring record on 25 goals in a season!
That goal was alarmingly the 60th conceded by Derry in the league this season. A Dean Jarvis own goal on 70 minutes took the shine off Dundalk.
And when substitute, Ben Fisk rounded Gary Rogers before slotting into the net in the final minutes there was a glimmer of hope for City.
However, when Dylan Connolly was hauled down by Kevin McHattie when through on goal, referee, Paul McLaughlin flashed a red card and it was game over,
It was the first time Derry have lost five league games in a row since the end of the 2012 season under Declan Devine - the year they went on to win the FAI Cup!
And while Dundalk for long spells in the first half toyed with the Candystripes, it was a much improved second half display from the visitors.
Kenny Shiels opted for the same team which lost narrowly to Shamrock Rovers on Saturday while his opposite number, Stephen Kenny made three changes from the team which won at Cork.
In came ex-Candystripe, Jarvis, Jamie McGrath and Daniel Cleary while Brian Gartland, Dane Massey and Robbie Benson all dropped to the bench as Kenny freshened things up with the FAI Cup semi-final against UCD in mind.
Dundalk were in command in the opening stages with their first real chance arriving five minutes in when McEleney found the feet of Hoban on the edge of the area but the striker flashed his effort wide.
Derry almost capitalised on a mistake from birthday boy, Gary Rogers on 10 minutes who dropped McDonagh's corner inside his six yard box and just as Ronan Hale was about to pounce, John Mountney cleared the danger.
The ball fell to Adrian Delap and his ambitious strike from distance needed to be topped over the bar by the Dundalk keeper.
It was a promising spell by the visitors and they came close once again from the resultant corner. This time McDonagh crossed from the right side and Cole's downward header bounced over the bar,
McEneff gave away a needless free-kick on McGrath on the right side of the Derry penalty area. And when Duffy whipped in the set-piece, Cleary rose highest to head home on 17 minutes.
Derry were shaken and Cole sold Gerard Doherty short with his backpass with Hoban chasing it down but fortunately the ball bounced off the Dundalk striker and went behind for a goalkick.
Dundalk doubled their lead on 21 minutes with a goal made in Derry as Brandywell old boys, Duffy and McEleney combined.
Former Celtic man, Duffy did superbly to race past McDonagh before finding McEleney in space and the Shantallow native curled his shot sweetly into the corner of the net.
Mountney should've added a third on the half hour mark when McEleney found him in space with the deftest of touches but he sent his shot into the side netting.
Duffy rifled a powerfully hit half half volley wide of the Derry goal on 38 minutes as Derry struggled to get out of their own half.
On the stroke of half-time Hoban swivelled on the ball before curling his shot beautifully into the far corner giving Doherty no chance. It was a stunning strike as he equalled the Premier Division scoring record of 25 in a season and Dundalk were Hoban hosed.
The first half was a stroll in the park for the Lilywhites. Surely the second half could only get better for the visitors!
Well Hoban could've broken that top flight record with a brace of chances four minutes after the restart. His free header shaved the post and moments later Duffy found him in space 12 yards from goal but he totally missed his kick.
He did have the ball in the back of the net 0n 50 minutes but it was correctly ruled out for offside.
Derry skipper, Doherty then denied Hoban with an outstanding stop as he clawed the Galway man's header from McEleney's cross, over the bar.
City pulled one back with 20 minutes to go when Delap chased down Splaine's throughball and Rogers' block hit Jarvis and rolled into the Dundalk net.
Substitute, Fisk then raced onto Dean Shiels pass, rounded Rogers and slotted into the empty net to give Derry a lifeline on 89 minutes.
However, when Connolly raced through on goal McHattie pulled him down on the edge of the box and received a red card for his troubles seconds before the final whistle as Dundalk moved 12 points clear at the top of the table.
Stephen Kenny's troops will lift a fourth league title in five seasons when they take on St Patrick's Athletic in two weeks time.
Dundalk: G. Rogers; S. Gannon, S. Hoare, D. Cleary, D. Jarvis; J. Mountney(D. Connolly 62), C. Shields, P. McEleney (R. Murray 62), M. Duffy; J. McGrath; P. Hoban (G. Kelly 86); G. Sava, B. Gartland, D. Massey, R. Benson.
Derry City: G. Doherty: J. McDonagh, D. Cole, E. Toal, K. McHattie; A. Roy (N, Low h-t) A. Splaine, R. Hale, A. Delap (B. Fisk 85); A. McEneff (D. Shiels h-t); Ronan Hale; Subs Not Used - E. Grimes, G. Peers, C. Farren,
Referee - Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan).