Eoin Toal rescues a point at the death for Derry City against rivals Finn Harps
DERRY CITY skipper Eoin Toal's 94th minute header rescued a point for an out of sorts Candystripes against Finn Harps at Brandywell.
It was the Armagh man's first goal in almost 12 months and it was an important one as Derry were heading for a fourth straight defeat going into the midseason break.
Harps twice led and deservedly broke the deadlock after just eight minutes as Filip Mihaljevic netted his third goal of the season from close range.
A piece of magic from the boot of Will Patching got Derry back on level terms on 22 minutes as he caught Mark McGinley off guard from a spectacular 35 yard free-kick.
The visitors came out strongest in the second half and again stunned their hosts when the impressive Eric McWoods ran onto Bastien Hery's through ball and turned the ball past Brian Maher.
Ollie Horgan's side held on strongly but Toal rose to head home from close range in the final minute of stoppage time.
It was a cruel blow for Harps but Derry will be grateful to have arrested a three match losing streak.
It was another below par display from the Foylesiders as Ruaidhri Higgins troops made it a full month and six matches without a win as they slipped into third spot behind Dundalk.
Their last win came in the 4-0 drubbing of St Pat's in Inchicore on April 29th and the midseason interval will have come at the perfect time.
Derry had made three changes to the team which lost to Sligo on Monday night with Jack Malone making his first start of the season replacing the injured Cameron Dummigan.
Matty Smith and Brandon Kavanagh also returned to the starting line-up.
Derry had the first shot on target after six minutes when Toal played McGonigle into space through the middle but his tame strike was saved comfortably by Mark McGinley.
Harps stunned the Brandywell attendance when taking the lead on eight minutes when Rainey cushioned down a cross from the right with a deft touch into the path of the unmarked Mihaljevic who fired low into the bottom corner from a tight angle.
It was the Croatian's third goal of the season and his second against the Candy Stripes having scored from the spot when the teams last met at Finn Park.
It was poor defending from the home side who were far from comfortable.
Mihaljevic earned a free-kick 25 yards from the Derry goal in a central position on 14 minutes.
Up stepped Regan Donelon to take the set-piece and his left-footed strike clipped the top of the crossbar and went over with Maher beaten.
It was the fourth game in succession Derry found themselves behind and the home crowd were growing in frustration.
The Candystripes needed to find inspiration from somewhere and it arrived in the shape of Patching who delivered another piece of magic from a free-kick in 22 minutes.
Shaping up to cross into the box from the left, Patching spotted McGinley coming off his line and the Englishman produced an audacious strike which floated into the top corner.
It was a stunning strike and Patching's eighth of the season which took him level on goals with Dundalk's Pat Hoban and two behind his teammate Jamie McGonigle.
Both teams went through the motions and there was more entertainment on the sidelines with Ollie Horgan cautioned for remonstrating with the fourth official.
Assistant managers, Gavin Dykes and Alan Reynolds also exchanged words in a heated confrontation in front of the dugouts before the action resumed.
Derry boss Higgins will have been happiest going in at the break with the game level.
At the start of the second half Joe Thomson made space in the middle of the pitch before driving a blistering strike wide of the target.
Harps were back in front just after the hour mark as ex-Derry midfielder Bastien Hery played McWoods in on goal and the striker cut inside Eoin Toal inside the box before slotting the ball past Maher at the near post.
The Ballybofey men could've been 3-1 up on 65 minutes when Donelon crossed dangerously into the six yard box but Conor Tourish needed the slightest of touches but Maher gleefully gathered the ball.
Derry were becoming desperate and Mark McGonley produced a fantastic point blank save to deny Ronan Boyce at his near post after sub James Akintunde had fizzed in a cross.
Moments later Patching's spectacular effort on the volley from 30 yards bounced just wide of the target.
Substitute Danny Lafferty then screwed his left footed shot wide of the post from 12 yards as Harps held firm with six minutes to go.
Five minutes of added time was signalled by the fourth official. Shane McEleney had an effort charged down as Harps defended in numbers. However, Derry finally broke the visitors' resolve in the fourth minute of stoppage time as Toal headed powerfully into the far corner of the net from close range to salvage a point.
Derry City: B. Maher: S. McEleney, E. Toal, C. McJannet; R. Boyce, J. Thomson (E. McLaughlin 61) W. Patching, J. Malone (D. Lafferty 70), B. Kavanagh (J. Akintunde 61); M. Smith, J. McGonigle; N. Gartside, C. Coll, G. Storey, C. Porter, D. McCallion, L. Mullan.
Finn Harps: M. McGinley; C. Tourish, R. Donelon (E. Alkan 75) R. Slevin, R. Connolly, E. McWoods (L. Rudden 78), J. Carrillo, B. Hery (J. Devers 96), R. Rainey, E. Boyle, F. Mihaljevic; Subs Not Used - G. Doherty, Y. Mahdy, M. Timlin, N. Logue, S. McDermott, G. Mulreany.
Referee: Adriano Reale.