Frustrated Derry City held scoreless by Dundalk as Mark Connolly stretchered off injured
Derry City 0 Dundalk 0
DERRY City lost their grip on top spot in the SSE Airtricity League table as Dundalk held them to a draw at Brandywell but Ruaidhri Higgins will be more concerned about the loss of experienced defender Mark Connolly.
Connolly joined a list of key players on the Brandywell treatment table after the Clones man pulled up with a hamstring injury and was stretchered off 14 minutes into this scoreless draw.
Dundalk winger Daniel Kelly, recently returned from injury, was also taken off early in the first half following a suspected recurrence of his hamstring issues.
Both teams came into the match after winning maximum points from last weekend's double header but this clash lacked quality in the final third as a third game in the space of seven days seemingly took its toll.
Derry were left frustrated having enjoyed the majority of the possession and the best of the scoring chances as Nathan Shepperd produced two big saves to deny Jamie McGonigle and Ben Doherty in either half while Ronan Boyce came close with a header late on.
Former Candy Stripes midfielder Greg Sloggett can also count himself fortunate not to have received a second booking for a series of fouls which broke up promising Derry attacks in the second half.
Dundalk were the only team Derry failed to beat last season and the Lilywhites twice came to Foyleside and claimed victories in 2022.
Stephen O'Donnell's men rarely threatened on this occasion and held off a late bombardment in the final stages to head back to Oriel Park with a share of the spoils to continue what has been a very productive seven days for the Co. Louth men.
Derry were dealt that huge blow on 14 minutes when Connolly, who spent six months on loan at Dundalk last season, pulled up holding his hamstring during a race with Daniel Kelly for the ball.
Worst fears were realised as the Monaghan man was stretchered off the pitch and replaced by Ronan Boyce,
The home side weren't to be deterred and on 18 minutes Hayden Muller needed to react quickly to steer Ryan Graydon's dangerous ball from the right behind for a corner with McGonigle lurking behind him ready to pounce.
Three minutes later Ciaran Coll's headed clearance found Dundalk's Johannes Yi-Kokko on the edge of the box and the Finnish midfielder took a touch before flashing a shot narrowly over the bar.
Kelly, who returned last weekend after a period on the sidelines with a hamstring injury then pulled up clutching his left leg and was replaced by Alfie Lewis.
Will Patching sent McGonigle scampering in behind the Dundalk defence and his left footed shot was parried away by Nathan Shepperd at his near post before it was eventually cleared.
Moments later Boyce crossed towards the back post towards McGonigle who was gifted a free header but he powered his effort across goal and over the crossbar.
Derry looked the likeliest to break the deadlock in the final of five minutes stoppage time at the end of the first half. Graydon turned inside onto his left foot before curling over the crossbar.
Graydon was in the thick of the action on the restart as he made a jinking run into the penalty area before crossing low towards McEneff who attempted a flick towards goal with his heel but the midfielder couldn't get enough on his connection and Sheppered claimed.
Sadou Diallo fired powerfully towards goal from just inside the penalty area but Andy Boyle made a brilliant block to deny the City midfielder as the home side began to turn the screw.
Patching's ambitious free-kick from wide on the left flank had Shepperd concerned but it nestled on the roof of the net on 65 minutes.
City substitute Ollie O'Neill dribbled his way into the penalty area and squared the ball to Patching but the Englishman miscued his shot and it struck McGonigle before Dundalk cleared.
The Lilywhites were hanging on and Shepperd was at full stretch to deny Ben Doherty's 20 yard strike with a terrific save with five minutes to go.
Derry huffed and puffed in the final minutes but couldn't break down a stubborn Dundalk defence.
While Higgins will be disappointed his side failed to turn their dominance into a win, he can take great satisfaction from the performance, particularly given it was the third game in the space of the week and following two quickfire trips to Dublin.
Derry remain the only undefeated team in the top flight after this one but they will see it as an opportunity missed given their dominance but that injury to Connolly was the major concern for Higgins who must be cursing his luck.
Connolly joins Michael Duffy, Adam O’Reilly, Cameron Dummigan, Cameron McJannet, Colm Whelan and Ciaron Harkinon the list of injured players and the international break won’t come quick enough for the City boss.
Before then they host Sligo Rovers at Brandywell next Friday night and they’ll be hoping to maintain that unyuk
Derry City: Maher: Coll, Connolly (Boyce 16), S. McEleney, Doherty; Graydon, Diallo, P. McEleney, McEneff (O'Neill 54); Patching; McGonigle (C. Kavanagh 75): Subs Not Used - Ryan, B Kavanagh, Ward, McLaughlin, McGinty, Mullan.
Dundalk: Shepperd; Davies, Muller, Boyle, Leahy; Tulloch (Benson 70), Kelly (Lewis 26), Sloggett, Yli-Kokko (O'Kane 71), Malley (Martin 59); Hoban (Elliott 70); Subs Not Used - Ward, McCourt, Williams, Byrne.
Referee - Rob Hennessy (Dublin).