Shamrock Rovers produce ruthless comeback in six goal thriller against Derry City
Derry City 2 Shamrock Rovers 4
SHAMROCK ROVERS produced a spectacular second half comeback in a six goal thriller against Derry City to maintain top spot.
There were early signs of a European hangover as Derry raced into a 2-0 lead in the opening half hour after Ronan Boyce's opener and a penalty from Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe.
However, Graham Burke's fine finish from distance four minutes before the break sparked a remarkable comeback from the champions.
It was a ruthless second half display with goals from skipper Ronan Finn and substitutes, Rory Gaffney and Richie Towell ending the game as a contest.
It was Rovers' sixth straight victory over the Candystripes at the Brandywell.
There was some confusion ahead of kick-off as Rovers boss Stephen Bradley waited until the last possible opportunity to reveal his team sheet due to a Covid related incident.
Ronan Finn was a late change to the original line-up distributed to the media with the skipper replacing Sean Gannon who did his pre-match warm-up on his own. Richie Towell was also a late addition to the team sheet with Gannon omitted completely.
The Dubliners' U19 team also were in attendance, having travelled up to Foyleside seemingly as a precaution as they awaited the results of Covid tests.
Bradley made three changes in total from the team which lost out to Slovan Bratislava in the Champions League qualifier.
Richie Towell, Joey O'Brien and Rory Gaffney dropped out with Dylan Watts, Aaron Greene and Sean Kavanagh handed starts.
On the bench for Rovers was 16 year-old wonderkid Kevin Zefiu who recently signed for Serie A giants, Inter Milan.
Ruaidhri Higgins made just the single change from the team which lost to 10 man St Pat's last weekend with Will Fitzgerald replacing Darren Cole in the City midfield.
Rovers had the first shot on target on 11 minutes when Danny Mandroiu tested Nathan Gartisde with a shot from 25 yards but the City keeper made a comfortable save.
Gary O'Neill fouled Ogedi-Uzokwe on the edge of the penalty area and from the resulting free-kick James Akintunde blasted high over the crossbar as Rovers got off the hook.
Derry broke the deadlock on 20 minutes after excellent work from the persistent Ogedi-Uzokwe who charged down Roberto Lopes' attempted clearance.
The Englishman found Fitzgerald who squared the ball across the face of goal and Boyce was on hand to fire in his fifth goal of the season from 10 yards.
Rovers were rattled and Burke tried his luck with a curling effort from wide on the right but it sailed safely into the hands of Gartside on 25 minutes.
Alan Mannus was called into action on 29 minutes when Fitzgerald headed into the path of Ogedi-Uzokwe and his first time strike was turned over the bar by the Rovers keeper.
From the corner kick, Malone floated towards the back post where Ogedi-Uzokwe was pulled down by Lopes and referee Rob Hennessy pointed to the spot.
Junior took responsibility and found the corner of the net with a clinical spotkick for his first goal since returning to the club.
Rovers were back in the game four minutes before the break when the ball broke to Burke just outside the Derry penalty area and he found the bottom corner with a terrific strike.
Gartside parried Dylan Watts' long distance strike on 44 minutes and the Derry defence eventually managed to clear the danger and got into the interval with their slender lead intact.
Bradley made a double substitution at the start of the second half with Towell and Gaffney replacing Mandriou and Lee Grace respectively.
Jack Malone screwed his shot wide of the left post as Derry began the second half brightly.
Rovers were level on 56 minutes after a sweeping move started by Aaron Greene who found the run of Liam Scales on the left wing and the wingback found Finn at the back post who was left with a simple tap-in from six yards.
Rovers hit the front on 62 minutes when Burke played a lovely ball over the top of the Derry defence to send Gaffney scampering through. And the substitute smashed his shot in off the underside of the crossbar and into the net from a tight angle.
Towell sealed the win with 15 minutes to go and he latched onto Burke's flick-on in midfield, raced clean through on goal and calmly slotted it past Gartside for his first league goal since his return from England.
Rovers came so close to adding a fifth with seven minutes to go as Gartside spilled Burke's free-kick at the feet of Scales but the defender somehow struck the post and the chance was lost.
It mattered little, however as Rovers saw out the game comfortably to take home three well deserved points.
Derry City: N. Gartside: R. Boyce, E. Toal, C. McJannet, C. Coll (P. Ferry 73); J. Ogedi-Uzokwe, J. Malone (D. Cole 61), C. Harkin, D. Lafferty; W. Fitzgerald (J. McGonigle 61); J. Akintunde; Subs Not Used - J Lemoignan, J. Thomson, D. Parkhouse, E. McLaughlin, P. Ferry, C. Porter, B. Barr.
Shamrock Rovers: A. Mannus; R. Finn (M. Murphy 86) R. Lopes, L. Grace (R. Gaffney h-t); L. Scales, G. O'Neill, D. Watts, D. Mandroiu (R. Towell h-t), S. Kavanagh; G. Burke (D. Duffy 91); A Greene (D. McMenamy 86); Subs Not Used - L. Pogls, A. Wells, J. O'Brien, K. Zefi.
Referee - Rob Hennessy (Dublin).