Derry City manager Declan Devine - life's been made more difficult after another big disappointment in Dundalk. �INPHO/James Crombie
Derry City manager Declan Devine - life's been made more difficult after another big disappointment in Dundalk. �INPHO/James Crombie


DERRY City’s sensational fall from grace over the past few months has proved to be just as spectacular as the club’s rise to prominence at the start of the season.

Last night’s tame surrender at Oriel Park to Dundalk has added to the misery of a City side which now looks dispirited and a pale shadow of its former self.

Compounding Derry’s difficulties comes the news that Shamrock Rovers’ have now leap-frogged the Brandywell side into fourth spot in the Premier Division table on goal difference. City’s hopes of a return to Europa League football next season are now hanging in the balance.

But back to last night and what proved to be a bitterly disappointing display with an early refereeing decision denying a Derry penalty after just six minutes. Michael Rafter did appear to have been hauled down to earth by Dundalk ‘keeper Peter Cherrie, but the Derry striker was yellow carded for simulation by the referee. It proved only the start of City’s woes, but a sending off of Cherrie at that stage would have made for a very different match.

Instead, it turned into a triumph for Dundalk striker Ritchie Towell, who scored a superb hat-trick with an undoubted man-of-the-match performance. This ensures that Dundalk will finish in the top three, at least, and that’s the first time they’ve achieved that since winning the league back in 1995. They will still harbour hopes of a sensational finish to the season, though the odds are against it, as they’re within three points of leaders St Pat’s.

Derry arrived with a small band of supporters hoping to cement their spot in fourth place. They had a great chance to take the lead after just six minutes when former Dundalk star Rafter collected a loose ball to break clear into the penalty area. He knocked the ball past Peter Cherrie before hitting the deck. But instead of awarding a penalty and sending the keeper off, referee Graham Kelly adjudged the Tipperary man to have taken a dive, issuing a yellow card to the stunned Derry striker.

The visitors continued to sniff for a breakthrough and they were almost given a helping hand by the Dundalk defence in the 15th minute. Poor communication between Brian Gartland and Cherrie saw the goalkeeper charge from his box to make a clearance. The return ball from Rory Patterson ended up at Rafter’s feet on the edge of the 18-yard box but the incoming Patrick McEleney couldn’t take his square pass under control.

Dundalk responded with an opportunity of their own two minutes later. A Darren Meenan corner from the right was only half cleared to the edge of the box and John Dillon struck a sweet half-volley that arced just wide of the upright.

Both defences looked far from assured and a slip by Derry centre-back Dean Jarvis gave Patrick Hoban space for a pop at goal midway through the half. The former Mervue United man did well initially to spin away from Jarvis but his fierce effort lacked direction and flew high and wide of the target.

But the Dundalk breakthrough did arrive in the 26th minute. Kurtis Byrne chested the ball into the path of Towell and his half volley into the ground beat Gerard Doherty from a tight angle to find the net.

And Derry found themselves two goals in arrears before they had even had time to regroup as Towell claimed a second in as many minutes. A great move involving Hoban and Dillon ended with the ball out on the right with Darren Meenan. It looked like his cross was too deep to cause any problems but Dane Massey arrived on the scene to stoop down and head the ball back for Towell to smash home with a fine half-volley from 25-yards.

In truth Dundalk coasted through the second-half, with neither keeper seeing much of the action, but Doherty did have to pick the ball out of his net again in the 66th minute after Towell completed his hat-trick by placing the ball around the keeper after being set free by Kurtis Byrne.

Dundalk - Peter Cherrie; Mark Rossiter (John Sullivan 69), Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle, Dane Massey; John Dillon, Chris Shields, Richie Towell (John Mountney 90), Darren Meenan; Kurtis Byrne, Patrick Hoban (Vinny Faherty 63).

Derry City - Ger Doherty; Simon Madden, Shane McEleney, Dean Jarvis, Eoghan Osborne (Patrick Kavanagh 59); Patrick McEleney (Marc Griffin 77), Barry Molloy ©, Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry McNamee; Michael Rafter, Rory Patterson. Unused subs: Ryan Curran, Raymond Foy, David McDaid, Michael Duffy, Eugene Ferry (GK).

Referee - Graham Kelly (Cork).