Shamrock Rovers 1-0 Derry City: Huge result for Tallaght side after Danny Mandroiu winner
The fear for all of Shamrock Rovers’ rivals is that they are already best of the rest before the summer break after the champions pulled four points clear.
But Derry City will have no intention of throwing in the towel having matched the Hoops until the latter stages when Danny Mandroiu struck the killer blow.
‘Our Day Has Come’ read the banner unfurled by the travelling supporters. Well, this wasn’t it but they are too good a side to wilt after their first serious setback.
And despite the joyous celebrations on the final whistle, Rovers will know that too.
Because until that Hoops surge, the Candystripes had the better chances but not even the league’s sharpest shooter, Jamie McGonigle, could make them count.
Ultimately, experience told for the hosts who possessed the street smarts their rivals are still learning about, boxing clever when it mattered to see it over the line.
Match winner Mandroiu said: “Scoring my goals is my job, I’ve come on and made an impact and the three points is all that matters.
“Derry are excellent, they are well organised but we go to the end and we don’t stop.”
And Hoops boss Stephen Bradley said: “I thought Derry were very good first-half and we were very poor, slow and sloppy.
“But we stayed in the game and that is what champions do. We played for 20 minutes and got our reward.”
But Derry ace Will Patching insists the title race is far from over.
The midfielder said: “It takes them four points ahead but it’s not over and we’ll fight them until the end.”
If the first-half was disappointing in terms of a heavyweight clash not living up to its star billing, Derry won’t have cared a jot.
They were comfortably the better side and targeted the Chris McCann and Richie Towell partnership in midfield while keeping Jack Byrne and Graham Burke quiet.
And Derry got good purchase from that aggressive approach and could have led at the break from the two best chances of the half.
First, ex-Hoop Brandon Kavanagh started a move that involved Matty Smith and Joe Thomson, who skipped past a weak McCann challenge.
But McGonigle’s ball to Smith - who only had Alan Mannus to beat - was too heavy and skipped away from the attacker.
Mannus then saved the champions minutes later with a remarkable point blank save to deny McGonigle - the Premier Division’s top scorer - at the back post.
Kavanagh, again, had picked out the striker who was this week crowned SSE Airtricity / SWI Player of the Month for April, and Smith’s scrambled follow-up hit the side netting.
Rovers were sluggish and never firing during that opening half, despite Andy Lyons’ best efforts while raiding from the left flank.
Direct balls into lone striker Rory Gaffney rarely came off either, with centre-backs Shane McEleney and Eoin Toal reading those balls from deep.
The Hoops best chance of the opening half came early on when Lyons was winding up to connect with a Ronan Finn cross, only for Ronan Boyce to make a top class block.
And beyond that, two wild Towell efforts over the bar and a dragged Gaffney shot before the break were about as good as it got for the out of sorts hosts.
But unlike the Sligo Rovers game here on Monday, when Stephen Bradley made four half-time substitutes to spark his team into action, he resisted changes this time.
They came later, by which stage Rovers had improved even if their star players like Byrne and Burke - who smashed a hat-trick on Monday - were subdued.
Yet Derry continued to chip away and Danny Lafferty forced another close range save from Mannus while Cameron Dummigan blazed over from distance.
And McGonigle was again well placed to open the scoring just after the hour mark, only for Sean Kavanagh to do just enough to put him off with a sliding challenge.
But Rovers finished strongly and the arrival of Mandroiu and Dylan Watts certainly helped
And they found a way to win it, and did so with 11 minutes remaining with Mandroiu on hand to slot home close in after Maher saved Lyons’ initial shot.
The South Stand belted out ‘That’s Why We’re Champions’ and they are well placed with a four-point lead at the top.
But Derry put it up to them and they will draw strength from that.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Mannus 7; Gannon 6 (Kavanagh 55, 6), Lopes 6, Hoare 7; Finn 7 (Cotter 81, 5), McCann 6 (Watts 68, 6), Towell 6, Lyons 7; Byrne 6, Burke 6; Gaffney 6 (Mandroiu 68, 7).
DERRY CITY: Maher 6; Boyce 6, S McEleney 7, Toal 7, Lafferty 7; Dummigan 7, Patching 7; Kavanagh 6 (Akintunde 67, 6), Thomson 7, Smith 6 (McLaughlin ; McGonigle 7.
Referee: Neil Doyle.
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