Dundalk 2, Derry City 2
TEENAGE defender, Eoin Toal's first senior goal rescued a point for 10 man Derry City against league leaders Dundalk at Oriel Park.
The Candy Stripes showed tremendous spirit to twice come from behind and extend their unbeaten run to eight games in all competitions.
Robbie Benson gave Dundalk a sixth minute lead but Aaron McEneff converted from the penalty spot three minutes before the break take his season's tally to an impressive six goals.
Ex-Derry City winger, Michael Duffy then pounced on Sean Gannon's cross on the stroke of half-time to hand the Lilywhites a deserved lead.
Derry were grateful for skipper, Gerard Doherty's interventions in that first half as the Creggan man made two excellent saves from Pat Hoban and John Mountney to keep his side in the game.
City raced out of the blocks on the restart and Toal poked home from four yards after Gary Rogers had clawed out Ronan Curtis' header as the visitors fought back for a second time.
Gavin Peers was sent off for a second bookable offence with three minutes to go but Derry held on bravely for a valuable point to keep their excellent run alive.
Dundalk had previously conceded just one goal in 11 league outings and nine clean sheets but City did superbly to break their resolve. Despite the battling draw, City slipped back into fourth place, two points behind Waterford who got back to winning ways.
Kenny Shiels made two enforced changes from the team which defeated Bohemians last Monday night. The big news was Rory Patterson's omission due to a hamstring injury and he was replaced up front by former Manchester United man, John Cofie who was handed his first start for the club.
City's top scorer, Ronan Hale also missed out due to a hamstring injury sustained in the victory over Bohs and he was replaced by Jamie McIntrye.
Dundalk also made two changes from Tuesday night's 3-0 win over Limerick at Markets Field with skipper, Stephen O'Donnell and Daniel Cleary replacing Chris Shields and Stephen Folan who both dropped to the bench.
It was the battle of the form teams, first versus third, with both boasting seven consecutive wins from their previous seven outings. It was the clash of the joint top scorers in the league with 22 scored going into tonight's clash and the 3,191 strong attendance didn't have to wait long before the opening goal of the match which arrived on six minutes.
John Mountney was proving a dangerous outlet on the right wing and his cross was met by Benson, who drifted in between the two Derry centre-halves and steered his shot past Doherty from close range.
Dundalk were dominating possession and should've doubled their lead on 13 minutes when Jamie McGrath did well to send Pat Hoban clean through on goal but Doherty did well to palm his shot behind.
From the resultant corner kick, Sean Hoare met Mountney's inswinging cross but headed narrowly over.
City's first promising chance fell to Cofie on 19 minutes who was played in behind but the striker scuffed his shot which was gathered cleanly by Gary Rogers.
From Nicky Low's corner the ball came to Cofie eight yards from goal but his miscued effort was cleared from the crowded Dundalk penalty area.
Doherty did well to block Mountney's close range header on 28 minutes as City struggled to get to grips with the game.
McDonagh then tried his luck from 25 yards but his strike sailed straight into the hands of Rogers.
Derry were back in the game three minutes before the break when McEneff was fouled by Cleary as he burst into the penalty area.
Referee, Ben Connolly pointed straight to the spot and the City midfielder dusted himself down before blasting the ball confidently past Rogers.
Dundalk were back in front less than two minutes later from a quick counter and brilliant work from Sean Gannon on the left wing as he crossed towards the back post where ex Candy Stripes, Duffy slotted into the net.
It was the Galliagh man's sixth goal of the season and second in two games but it was no more than the Lilywhites deserved after a dominant first half.
Derry got off to the perfect start in the second half and equalised for the second time from a free-kick on 47 minutes. McEneff whipped the set-piece towards the far post where Curtis met it with a towering header which was clawed away by Rogers. It fell kindly into the path of Toal at the back post who was left with the simple task of prodding it into the net for his first senior goal.
Duffy looked to have unlocked the Derry defence on 61 minutes but was denied a shot on target by an outstanding last ditch block from Cole. The ball fell to Mountney and he somehow sent his shot wide of the post as Derry survived.
Doherty produced a fantastic save to deny Hoban's first time strike from Mountney's corner on 65 minutes as Dundalk began to turn the screw.
Cofie came close when he got on the end of McDonagh's cross but his shot took a deflection off Cleary and went behind.
That proved to be the striker's last action of the game as he was replaced by Nathan Boyle, making his first appearance of the season.
Duffy fired just wide of the far post when he cut inside and curled his shot goalwards with 10 minutes left on the clock.
Derry were down to 10 men on 87 minutes when Peers was sent off for a second bookable offence following a foul on Shields.
Dundalk huffed and puffed during four minutes added time but Derry held on for the share of the spoils.
Dundalk: G. Rogers: S. Gannon, S. Hoare, D. Cleary, D. Massey; J. McGrath, S. O'Donnell (C. Shields 77), R. Benson, M. Duffy; J. Mountney (D. Connolly 71); P. Hoban (M. Tagbajumi 78); Subs Not Used - G. Sava, S. Folan, R. Murray, D. Jarvis.
Derry City: G. Doherty; D. Cole, G. Peers, E. Toal, J. Doyle; J. McDonagh, R. Hale, N. Low, R. Curtis; A. McEneff; J. Cofie (N. Boyle 72); Subs Not Used - E. Grimes, S. Whiteside, B. Doherty, N. Logue, C. Farren, J. McIntyre.
Referee - Ben Connolly (Dublin).