There are times in any campaign when all that matters is to grind out a result.
Derry City’s performance at the Brandywell on Friday night certainly wasn’t pretty – but in terms of taking them another step towards what would be the most unlikely of championships, it was mightily effective.
The second half goals which were initially credited to Eamon Zayed and Stewart Greacen – although neither man really knew much about them – were enough to see off a disgracefully unambitious St Patrick’s Athletic.
The first goal was all down to a mix-up between Brian Shortall and his keeper Chris Bennion, while for the second Greacen went for the header but missed, the ball going in off the knee of David Mulcahy instead.
Manager Stephen Kenny was in a self-congratulatory mood afterwards with three more points safely stashed away and his side still right up there at the top of the table.
But in truth Derry won only because they were the slightly less negative of the two sides.
Kenny reckons his five-man midfield helped Derry’s passing game whereas in reality it merely left Zayed much too isolated up front and in the end they needed those outrageous slices of good fortune to get the result required to keep them at the sharp end of the title race.
For their part St Patrick’s never even attempted to win the game. The only urgency they showed, and that really is stretching a point, was once they had fallen behind.
And while European exertions may have played a part in their lack lustre display, they are now all but out of the race and have no-one but themselves to blame for that.
Derry were without their two most creative players – the injured Gareth McGlynn and the departed James McClean.
Into the breach on the left wing stepped Stephen McLaughlin and although he has enjoyed better games for Derry, he did more than enough to suggest he can only improve.
And it was a vintage performance from fullback Eddie McCallion, as he raced down the left wing at every opportunity helped, it must be said, by the lack of defensive duties he had to undertake.
Most of Derry’s better attacking play came from that left wing, although it was from Patrick McEleney on the other flank that Derry should have taken the lead in the 13th minute when he fired in a cross which the in-rushing Zayed could only manage to steer wide of Bennion’s upright.
But for the most part Derry’s were deeply disappointing in the first 45 minutes, the five men in the middle getting in one another’s way more than anything.
In the opening half hour they looked most threatening from setpieces when the dangerous Daniel Lafferty was able to steal forward, but again he was unable to find the target with a couple of efforts.
McLaughlin had a half chance in the 30th minute and then Patrick McEleney tried his luck from long range with a low shot which flashed wide. Given the downpour which drenched the Brandywell pitch just before kick-off, that was a tactic Derry should have employed more often.
Bennion pulled off a great double save in the 39th minute, blocking first an effort from McLaughlin and then reacting quickly to get in position to stop Patrick McEleney’s follow-up.
McLaughlin took the attack straight to Pats right from the restart and saw another effort go wide two minutes into the half.
And then Zayed attempted what would have been his goal of the season when with his back to goal he controlled a Higgins ball and knocked it over his head only to shoot closer to the corner flag than the goal.
No doubt Zayed will claim his twentieth goal of the league campaign, but if he did get a touch to the 71st minute opener, it was the deftest of deflections.
Higgins sent the ball forward more in hope than expectation only for Bennion to completely misjudge the bounce with Zayed and Shortall tussling for possession in front of him allowing the ball to trundle over the line.
There was little the keeper could do about the second as Kevin Deery sent over a swinging corner and Greacen and Ian Birmingham both failing to get a head on the ball and it bounced in off Mulcahy’s knee.
DERRY CITY: Gerard Doherty; Danny Lafferty, Stewart Greacen, Shane McEleney, Eddie McCallion; Kevin Deery (c), Barry Molloy, Ruaidhri Higgins, Stephen McLaughlin; Patrick McEleney, Eamon Zayed.
Subs not used: Eugene Ferry, Emmett Friars, Ruairi Harkin, David McDaid, Ryan McBride, Michael McCrudden, James Henry.
Bookings: Kevin Deery, Stewart Greacen.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Chris Bennion; Derek Pender, Ian Bermingham(Paul Crawley 84), Evan McMillan, Daryl Kavanagh (Sean O’Connor 84); Stephen Bradley (c) (Conor Kenna 84), Daniel North, David McMillan, Derek Doyle; Brian Shorthall, David Mulcahy.
Subs not used: Sean Stewart, Jake Carroll, Shane Guthrie, Ian Daly.
Referee: Dave McKeon, Dublin.