PETER Hutton will have experienced a conflict of emotions in Galway’s Eamonn Deacy Park on Friday night but, in the end, the Derry boss and his backroom team got it right at the break.
A positional switch, moving playmaker Barry McNamee into the centre from the flank seemed to do the trick as Galway United, surprisingly, had clearly won the vital first half midfield battle as the understrength “Candy Stripes” struggled to put on the expected performance against the Premier Division newboys.
Marooned on the left wing, McNamee failed to get into the game in that opening period but with Sean Houston switching for the second half, Derry’s performance improved dramatically.
Absent three first choice players due to suspensions carried over from last season, Hutton’s woes were compounded by injuries to the club’s newly recruited strikers, Anthony Elding (calf) and Cillian Morrison (quad muscle).
And when one adds in the fact that another new signing, holding midfielder, Seanan Clucas, did not receive his international clearance in time for Friday night’s game, the Brandywell boss certainly experienced a few opening night nerves.
DISMAL FIRST HALF
Disappointed at entering the break 1-0 in arrears, Derry’s half-time team-talk appeared to have wonder wonders.
And the fact that the players refused to allow their heads to drop with just one goal in the game said quite a lot in relation to the character within this grouping.
They got it right for the second half performance and Galway United can have no complaints.
In fact, the “Candy Stripes” penned the home side into their own half for lengthy periods with the skilful Patrick McEleney conducting the orchestra for the visitors.
There’s no doubt that Galway boss, Tommy Dunne, will have been very happy with his charges’ determined effort in the opening half of their return to the League of Ireland top flight.
However, he will also have realised that his side had created enough chances to put this game to bed before the break arrived.
His new centre-back, Samuel Oji, gave the home side the start they had craved in front of Galway’s No. 1 supporter, Irish President, Mr. Michael D. Higgins.
The centre-back got his head to Ryan Connolly’s 20th minute delivery into the danger area and Oji powered the ball home from six yards to stun the visitors.
In excess of 2,000 Galway supporters greeted their opening goal back in the Premier Division with delight and the home side really could and should have added to that score but for Derry keeper, Gerard Doherty and, indeed, wayward finishing in the front line.
Indeed, in the 37th minute Galway went so close to doubling their lead.
A high punt upfield from Colm Horgan was almost deflected into his own net by Derry’s Shane McEleney, the centre-back lobbing the ball over his advancing keeper before it bounced just inches wide of the upright.
Major concern, therefore, greeted Derry at half-time, their only highlight a Patrick McEleney shot was which parried wide by Galway keeper, Conor Gleeson, in a one-on-one situation in the 40th minute.
In stoppage time the same Derry player drove the ball high over his crossbar before McNamee’s cross failed to find the head of leading striker, Ryan Curran.
Following the change of ends, Derry silenced the large home support with that positional switch.
And the “Candy Stripes” began to show the form which took them to last year’s FAI Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium.
DERRY CITY MOVED
UP A GEAR
Passing the ball with great accuracy and pushing the home side back at every available opportunity, Galway’s first half enthusiasm and adventure appeared to wane.
Having continued to exert sustained pressure, the “Candy Stripes” were rewarded just short of the hour mark and the undoubted “man of the match,” Patrick McEleney emerged the architect of the goal.
Sent clear by Josh Daniels, McEleney’s cross was not adequately dealt with by a nervous Galway back four and as the ball made its way across the box, the advancing Sean Houston was left with the simple task of stabbing it home to restore equality.
That strike had a major effect on the home side who now began to struggle in the vital areas.
Derry, with their tails up for the first time in the game, never looked back.
They pressed forward immediately in search of a winner as Galway contemplated a share of the spoils which, given Derry’s second half dominance, would have been acceptable.
However, the visitors refused to give up the ghost and with nine minutes remaining on the clock their second half supremacy was finally rewarded.
McEleney had provided the ammunition before Ryan Curran managed to get a touch on the ball to divert it past the startled Gleeson - it may not have been the greatest goal the player will ever score, but he will not be concerned - the ball finding its way into the bottom corner of the net.
Three points in the bag when fielding what was a makeshift Derry City team will, no doubt, be warmly welcomed on Foyleside but Hutton will be the first to note that more serious challenges lie ahead, particularly over the coming three weeks.
GALWAY UNITED - Conor Gleeson; Andy O’Connell (Jason Molloy 85), Stephen Walsh, Samuel Oji, Colm Horgan; Gary Shanahan, Paul Sinnott, David O’Leary, Jake Keegan; Enda Curran (Padraic Cunningham 78), Ryan Connolly. Subs not used - Cormac Raftery, Conor Winn, Aaron McDonagh, Conor Barry, Antaine O Laoi.
DERRY CITY - Ger Doherty, Dean Jarvis, Shane McEleney, Aaron Barry, Shaun Kelly; Josh Daniels, Philip Lowry, Sean Houston, Barry McNamee; Patrick McEleney, Ryan Curran.
Subs not used: Shaun Patton, Patrick McClean, George Kelly, Ronan Curtis, Chris Flanagan, Joe McIntyre, Ryan Doherty.
REFEREE - Mr. Paul McLaughlin (Monaghan)