Derry senior hurlers are one win away from the Christy Ring Cup final setting up a final day shoot-out against Mayo by defeating London in a low key affair at Owenbeg on Sunday.
The Oak Leafers were far from their best against the Exiles, recovering from a slow start thanks to first half goals from Gerald Bradley and Odhran McKeever but 19 wides across the 70 minutes was indicative of a game peppered with loose passing and wayward shooting and ended with the dismissal of Derry's Darragh McGilligan after a second booking.
Dominic McKinley and Cormac Donnelly's men still had too much for the visitors but even after a third from Tiarnan McHugh, Derry were never comfortable and will need to improve for the trip to MacHale Park next Saturday, a game from which the winners will progress to meet Kildare in the final the following weekend.
Both Mayo and Derry will go into that game with identical championship records of four wins and one defeat, both counties suffering their solitary defeat against championship favourites, Kildare, who have won four from four.
There were positives of course, and the fact that a six point victory over a talented London team was greeted with frustration shows the strides the squad has made under McKinley and Donnelly, but no one will be fooled. To have aspirations of winning the Christy Ring Cup, Derry will need to produce better than this, beginning against Mayo.
Facing into a stiff breeze for the opening 35 minutes, Derry were chasing 'The Exiles' for most the opening period thanks in large to the free taking of London midfielder, Donal Hannon, who hit 0-7 from six frees and one '65'.
Derry looked leggy, promising build-up play often being met with wayward shooting as the Oak Leafers registered nine wides before the break. Indeed it took two excellent goals to give the home side a foothold in the game and ensure they turned around only one pint behind at 2-04 to 0-11.
The first major arrived on 19 minutes and while Gerald Bradley was the man on target, the goal owed everything to some superb play from Tiarnan McHugh. John Mullan's long ball in was asking a lot of the forward who, like his fellow Oak Leaf front men, had endured an indifferent start. There was nothing indifferent though about the way McHugh controlled the ball, held off London's Jonathan McCarthy and, despite having his arm held, was able to fed the perfect pass to Bradley to fire into the net.
That goal tied the game at 1-04 to 0-07 and the second, five minutes later, fired Derry ahead for the first time. Again McHugh was the man loading the ammunition for his fellow forwards to fire, his passing this time picking out Odhran McKeever's run with the Dungiven man making mistake, producing a lovely first time finish for 2-04 to 0-08.
Two great goals but they masked a poor start by the home side who were 0-6 to no score down after eight minutes with Derry's opening score not arriving until the 10th minute courtesy of a Cormac O'Doherty free. Indeed it would take until the 19th minute for Derry to score from open play via a Darragh McGilligan score.
Even then, London were able to rally to turn around with a one point lead after three successive scores from three more Hannon frees as the half ended with the visitors 0-11 to 2-04 in front.
It took only 14 seconds of the second period for Derry to signal their intent, John Mullan splitting the posts to level the game.
Yet while Derry's intensity had been raised, mistakes still littered their play as London regained their lead via a point from substitute Brendan McCarry. Again, Derry were level thanks to a Richie Mullan free but Jack Goulding restored London's advantage once more at 2-07 to 0-13.
Derry needed a shot in the arm and McHugh provided it as the table were turned on the Oak LEafers' first goa with Gerald Bradley this time turning provide to tee up the big Kevin Lynch's forward who made no mistake with a fine finish across Stephen Bardon in the London goal.
The goal didn't win the game but the boost it gave Derry was obvious as the Division 2A winners rattled off five successive points from Cormac O'Doherty, McHugh, Mullan, Darragh McGilligan and Eamon McGill to finally take control of the game at 3-12 to 0-13.
McHugh's point came after a remarkable save from Bardon as McHugh threatened another goal at the other end but Derry looked t have enough to see out the game.
They did but it was much closer than it should have been as a late Fiachra O'Keefe goal and that second booking for McGilligan had Derry looking over their shoulders. They needn't have worried, they had done enough but they will need more next weekend.
Derry scorers: Gerald Bradley (1-0), Odhran McKeever (1-1), Tiarnan McHugh (1-1), Cormac O'Doherty (0-4, 4f), Darragh McGilligan (0-2), John Mullan (0-1), Richie Mullan (0-3, 3f), Eamon McGill (0-1), Deaghlan Foley (0-1),
London scorers: Fiachra O'Keefe (1-0), Donal Hannon (0-8, 6f, 1 '65'), Mark Dwyer (0-1), Sean Glynn (0-2), Colin Nelson (0-1), Brendan McCarry (0-1), Jack Goulding (0-1),
Derry: Oisin O'Doherty, Ciaran Hendry, Mark Craig, Darragh McCloskey, Eamon Gill, Richie Mullan, Gabriel Farren, Cormac O'Doherty, Darragh McGilligan, Fintan Bradley, John Mullan, Brian McGilligan, Tiarnan McHugh, Gerald Bradley, Odhran McKeever. (Subs) Michael Lynch for O McKeever, 51mins; Deaghlan Foely for B McGilligan, 54mins; Ryan Mulholland for C O'Doherty, 61mins; Padhraig Nelis for F Bradley, 64mins;
Yellow Cards: J Mullan, 32mins; G Bradley, 35mins; C Hendry, 40mins; D McGilligan, 60mins; R Mullan, 73mins;
London: Stephen Bardon, Luke Hanley, Dean Bruen, Jonathan McCarthy, Patrick McNaughton, Padraig Muldoon, Sean Lordan, Jack Goulding, Donal Hannon, Colin Nelson, Mark Dwyer, Richard Lombard, Brendan McCarry, Matthew Feaney, Sean Glynn. (Subs) Fiachra O'Keefe for P McNaughton, HT: Fergal Collins for M Feaney, 45mins; Malcolm Flannery for C Neilson, 56mins; Patrick Earley for L Hanley, 61mins;
Yellow Cards: P Muldoon, 53mins; S Glynn, 67mins;
Referee: Colm McDonald (Antrim)