Three goal Derry City defeat Drogheda ahead of Tobol second leg tie
Derry were in dominant mood throughout Sunday's game and deservedly led at the break thanks to Jordan McEneff's clinical opener but it took until the 83rd minute before the Bradnywell could breathe easier about a victory that takes the Candy Stripes up to third in the table, five points behind Premier Division leaders Shamrock Rovers, but crucially with a game in hand.
Three points and a clean bill of health top of Ruaidhri Higgins' wish list for a potential 'banana skin' of a game sandwiched between two huge European ties and his players delivered in style with a display that illustrated the growing confidence and competition for places at Brandywell
Indeed Higgins made five changes to the side narrowly beaten in Thursday's first leg in Kazakhstan in a bid to freshen things up for a game which was arguably more important to Derry's season than the two European dates which bookmarked either side of it.
In came Ciaran Coll, Shane McEleney, Brandon Kavanagh, Jordan McEneff and striker Danny Mullen with Mark Connolly, Will Patching, Paul McMullan, Ben Doherty and Cian Kavanagh starting on a strong home bench, obviously with one eye on Tobol's visit to Tallaght Stadium later in the week.
For their part Drogheda made two chances to the side which met Bohs last time out. Evan Weir was suspended after his red card during that 4-2 defeat and was replaced by Conor Kane while Ryan Brennan got his chance at the expense of Aaron McNally who was named on the bench
Derry lined up with Danny Mullen the focal point of an attacking looking formation, the striker backed up by Duffy, Kavanagh and McEneff but despite Adam O'Reilly seeing a couple of snapshots sail over early on, it was Drogheda who should have hit the front on 11 minutes.
Cameron McJannet's misjudgement allowed Drogs' front man Kyle Robinson to ghost in behind the home defence. Robinson had time to get his head up and squared the ball into the path of the unmarked Adam Foley but Maher was quickly off his line to block brilliantly and it proved a defining moment.
Drogheda's plan to contain Derry was frustrating the Higgins troops but the Candy Stripes did mange to open them up on 29 minutes when Duffy and Kavanagh exchanged passes for Duffy to cut a lovely ball back to O'Reilly who saw his shot deflected only inches over the bar.
That was Drogheda's warning but they failed to heed it and five minutes before the break City hit the front. The move started on the edge of the home area with McJannet heading clear. His clearance was tidied up by the impressive Sadou Diallo who released Duffy down the left. Sixty exhilarating yards later the Drogheda defence had been left trailing behind and McEneff was slotting Duffy's lovely cutback in at Andrew Wogan's near post to give his side a narrow, but deserved interval lead.
It was a more progressive Drogheda that emerged from the dressing room and they had a huge chance to equalise six minutes into the second half when Dayle Rooney whipped a lovely left footed cross onto Kyle Robinson's head, but the striker's glanced effort went the wrong side of the far post.
Derry were on the back foot and Higgins responded by introducing Patching, McEleney and McMullan in a bid to wrestle back control and it worked perfectly as McMullan flashed a low drive inches wide.
The Scottish winger was causing Drogheda all sorts of trouble and Coll was the next beneficiary of his supply line, the full back firing in a vicious low shot from McMullan's cross that Wogan was forced to scramble behind for a corner.
Derry were in complete control again but as long as their lead remained only one goal no one at Brandywell was resting easily. Duffy saw a shot blocked before substitute Jamie McGonigle was denied at the near post by another good Wogan save. Something had to give and it eventually did with six minutes left.
By that stage Mark Connolly had been introduced for the injured Shane McEleney and with almost his first touch he was able to feed Patching in space on the edge of the Drogheda penalty area. Space and time are two things you can ill afford to give the former Man City youth if you're a defender and once Patching had his head up, he thread a lovely ball into McGonigle's well timed run and the Dungiven man applied the perfect finish across Wogan and into the far corner.
With the pressure off, Derry opened up. Patching this time played in Duffy for a richly deserved third, the winger slotting past an exposed Wogan to give Derry the perfect preparation for Thursday's huge second leg tie against Tobol.
This match was all about a result but Higgins will have been delighted by the display. Michael Duffy continued his rich vein of form with a goal and an assist while Adam O'Reilly looks back to his best as he return to full match fitness after a spell out earlier in the season while Jamie McGonigle is another who will be putting his hand up for Thursday with an excellent late cameo
Five changes, great display, huge impact from the bench and three points; Roll on Thursday!