Matty Smith sees red as Derry City's Uefa Conference League hopes suffers major blow
MATTY Smith saw red as Derry City's hopes of progressing in the Uefa Conference League were left hanging by a thread after defeat to Riga FC at Brandywell.
Returning to European competition for the first time in two years there was a carnival atmosphere at the sold-out Foyleside venue prior to kick-off.
Ruaidhri Higgins' charges were underdogs against the Latvians whose European pedigree has grown in recent seasons, coming so close to a first ever appearance in the group stages of European competitions on two occasions.
However there was real belief amongst the home support and there was little between the teams during a cagey opening.
Riga warmed to the task and four minutes before the half-time break took the lead when Oleksandr Fillippov found Brazilian winger Gabriel Ramos who volleyed into the net.
Within the space of two minutes at the start of the second half Derry's hopes of progressing to the second round suffered a major blow.
Smith was shown a straight red card for raising his hand towards the face of Glody Ngonda on 67 minutes. It was a needless altercation with the Congolese full-back and the Latvians made them pay the ultimate price moments later as Douglas Aurelio skipped past Shane McEleney before cutting it back to Filippov who was left with a simple tap-in from five yards.
Derry did have chances from set-pieces but couldn't find a way past the Riga defence who will have one eye on a second round tie against the winner of MFK Ruzomberok (Slovakia) and FK Kauno Zalagiris (Lithuania), the Slovaks also taking a 2-0 lead into the second leg in that tie.
The Foylesiders were handed a major boost before kick-off with both Ronan Boyce and Cameron Dummigan declared fit following recent injury layoffs.
Both teams were sizing each other out during a cagey opening and seven minutes elapsed before the visitors registered the first shot at goal when Aurelio Douglas fired harmlessly over the bar from 25 yards.
Derry carved out their first opening of the match on 14 minutes when Patrick McEleney won the ball from Yurii Vakulki in midfield and when McGonigle picked up the loose ball, he found the lively Joe Thomson with a square pass but the Scot dragged his shot wide.
Toal headed into the hands of Davis Oss from Patching's floated cross towards the back post moments later.
The Riga keeper was called into action once again on 18 minutes when he held onto Patching's curling free-kick from a promising position on the right of the penalty area on 18 minutes
Finnish winger Mikael Soisalo did well to race past Patrick McEleney inside the Derry penalty area but his low cross into the six yard box was cut out by the outstretched leg of Brian Maher before Patching cleared the danger.
The Latvians were utilising their pace on the wings to great effect with ex-Dundalk full-back Jurkovskis and Soisalo causing problems on the right.
It was the latter who cut open the Derry defence with a clever cut back towards the penalty spot but striker Fillippov scuffed his shot and Maher saved.
McGonigle cut inside onto his right foot as Derry broke at pace but the City striker's low shot towards the far post was gathered cleanly by Oss on the half hour mark.
Patching was handed another opportunity from a free-kick, this time a little closer towards the Riga goal. It was a better effort from the Englishman who bent his effort over the wall but it failed to trouble the keeper.
Derry found themselves behind four minutes before the break when Fillippov chased a long ball in behind Shane McEleney before hooking his cross into the penalty area where Ramos' effort on the half volley bounced into the corner of the net.
It was a poor goal to concede and it almost got worse for the home side moments later when Filippov tried to find the far corner of the net with a decent strike from 20 yards but it sailed wide.
The Latvians took their narrow lead into the interval and they were marginally better of the two teams with Derry threatening fleetingly from setplays.
Boyce, who had passed a late fitness test, went down injured on 52 minutes and was replaced by debutante Ryan Graydon who joined from Longford Town last weekend.
Patching came close to finding the target with another free-kick from the corner of the box but it was another opportunity lost for the home lot.
Derry were beginning to churn through the gears and Riga were prepared to sit back and soak up the pressure.
There was a big claim for handball when McGonigle's strike hit the outstretched hand of substitute Ilja Korotkovs but there was little the Latvian could do to get out of the way and the referee waved play on.
Within the space of two minutes Derry found themselves in real trouble and in danger of bowing out of the competition.
On 67 minutes match referee Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson harshly gave City striker Smith his marching orders after the Scotsman got into a needless confrontation with Glody Ngonda who received a yellow card for his troubles.
It didn't take Riga long to take advantage but it was poor defending once more as Aurelio skipped past Shane McEleney before cutting it back to Filippov who was left with a simple tap-in from five yards.
Patching did have another chance from a well placed free-kick but curled his effort straight into the hands of the Riga keeper once again.
With the extra man Riga were controlling the ball for the final 10 minutes but a misplaced pass from Korotkovs fell straight to the feet of Graydon who raced towards goal before firing wide of the net on 88 minutes.
There was five minutes of added time signalled but both sides would've been content to blow it up.
It could've been worse for City with the last action of the first leg as Ukrainian substitute Vladlen Yurchenko clipped the crossbar with a well executed strike from just inside the box. Jurkovskis fired the rebound over the crossbar but it mattered little as Riga took a giant step towards the second round.
Derry have it all to do in the second leg in Riga next week and will be kicking themselves for two avoidable goals.
Derry City: Maher: Boyce (Graydon 52), Toal, McEleney; Smith, Dummigan, McEleney, Patching, McJannet; Thomson; McGonigle (Akintunde 74); Subs Not Used - Gartside, Coll, Kavanagh, Lafferty, McLaughlin, Malone, Porter.
Riga: Purins; Jurkovskis, Berqkvist, Cernomordijs (Korotkovs 57), Ngonda; Solsalo (Yurchenko 76), Vakulko, Petsos, Ramos; Aurelio (Petersons 80), Filippov; Subs Not Used - Oss, Ozols, Kurakins, Rugins, Musah, Tutu.
Referee: Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson (Iceland)