EAMON Zayed stretched his league goals tally to 12 in Tallaght Stadium last night, the Derry City hitman rescuing his side in the 63rd minute to send the “Candy Stripes” home with a deserved share of the spoils.
And while league leaders, Shamrock Rovers, will not be happy with the share of the spoils having taken a first half lead, the visitors stuck rigidly to their task after the break to draw back-to-back fixtures against Dublin opposition.
Gary McCabe caused Derry no shortage of the problems on the night and he was rewarded in the 24th minute. In fact, he went close to scoring what would have been the winning goal eight minutes from time with a powerful shot which Derry keeper, Gerard Doherty, found too hot to handle.
However, the league’s top marksman, Zayed, who worked tenaciously alone in the front line, registered his 12th league goal of the season following a corner, the striker racing towards the near post with 27 minutes remaining to glance the ball beyond the reach of the stunned Alan Mannus.
Indeed, if there was any difficulties on the pitch, the same situation applied in front of the dugouts with both managers, Stephen Kenny and Michael O’Neill, who briefly appeared to got head-to-head with each other after what appeared to be a verbal spat.
Kenny opted to deploy Barry Molloy at right-back from the first whistle in an effort to contain the contributeion of McCabe but after being given the freedom of Tallaght in the opening quarter of an hour, Molloy switched with skipper Kevin Deery into his more accustomed midfield role.
However McCabe continued to be Rovers’ go-to man and striker Patrick McEleney was the unfortunate individual to make way for the vastly experienced Eddie McCallion to be summoned from the bench.
And when McCabe beat McCallion to meet Pat Sullivan’s deep cross just two minutes after the switch, the Derry man appeared to get a touch to his opponents’ attempted header and the ball looped over Doherty and into the far corner of the net.
It was the reward Rovers’ most dangerous player deserved despite the fact that the visitors had begun very brightly, with James McClean cutting inside Sullivan in the opening minute.
But having refused to let go when well placed in front of goal with his right foot, the Creggan man attempted to work the ball onto his left and the opportunity was gone.
And after that Rovers were given far too much room in midfield to launch attacks, with McCabe at the heart of their invention yet the failed to adequately test the Derry keeper.
Rovers striker Karl Sheppard looked dangerous, but his turn in the penalty area in the 18th minute forced him off-balance and his shot was easily collected by the alert Doherty.
A low effort by McCabe was also dealt with by the City keeper but the writing was on the wall and the former Sligo player punished them on 26 minutes.
Derry did threaten from a couple of set-pieces but it was the ‘Hoops’ who came closest to another goal just before half-time when Stephen O’Donnell got a touch onto a Dan Murray attempt.
It appeared as if the hosts would continue where they left off when McCabe almost produced a sensational start to the second half, racing in-field but lashing a low shot across goal and wide.
Yet Derry remained focused and, indeed, improved, having reorganised at the interval. Zayed could have done better in the 51st minute when he tried to control a deflected Kevin Deery shot instead of shooting first time, a wasted opportunity.
But for all their first half efforts, it was a totally different story after the re-start as Derry started to look comfortable when enjoying so much possession.
It should also be noted that the ‘Candy Stripes’ did make mistakes and as a result of one such error, the home side should have doulbled their advantage just before the hour.
Shane McEleney carelessly gave the ball away to Sheppard on the edge of the penalty area before the centre-half hacked down the Rovers striker.
Stephen O’Donnell shaped a left-footed free towards the corner of the net – but the lanky McEleney was tall enough to get his body in the way and atone for his error.
Derry were not to be denied a goal and Zayed pounced with 27 minutes remaining with that glancing header following McGlynn’s corner to breath life into the visitors.
The Hoops pushed on for a winner but Craig Sives was denied by a brilliant Stewart Greacan block after McCabe was again denied from 20 yards by Doherty.
In the end, both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils with Derry refusing to allow Rovers to open an eight point gap.
Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Sullivan (Turner 75), Sives, Murray, Stevens;McCormack, Finn, O’Donnell (Rice 68); Sheppard (Dennehy 61), Twigg, McCabe.
Derry City: Doherty; Molloy, Greacen, S McEleney, Lafferty; P McEleney(McCallion 23), Deery, Higgins, McGlynn, McClean; Zayed. Referee: R Winter (Dublin)