Homepage Image courtesy of Peter Fitzpatrick
Sean O'Connor sent St Pats on their way to a deserved win against Derry City at Richmond Park on Monday night, with Jake Kelly and Vinny Faherty adding a belated gloss to the result with goals in the final five minutes.
It was clear from the kick-off that both teams would be addressing this contest with a sharp and positive attitude. Under Liam Buckley St Pats have become a side that place a premium on playing the ball on the ground and tonight was no different. Up against a Derry side that aspire to a similarly elegant style of play, this was immediately a game of great promise.
Pat McEleney was the first to get a shot on target, firing in a low effort that Barry Murphy gathered cleanly. That was after just two minutes of play, and two minutes later Ian Bermingham carved open the Derry defence with a ball to Jake Kelly that the winger flashed in at ground level. A sliding Christy Fagan met it at the back post but could only nudge it wide of Ger Doherty's goal.
On seven minutes Pat McEleney created another chance for Derry, finding Simon Madden on the right with a sublime cross-field ball. He was there to meet the cross too, stooping to flick a header up and over Murphy, but off the top of the Pats bar.
Playing wide on the right, Sean O'Connor was in fine form and was involved with everything that St Pats did, cutting inside on numerous occasions to pepper Doherty's goal with accurate and testing shots.
John Russell got in on the act too, whipping in a savagely curling cross from the right that Fagan, again, just couldn't reach at the back post.
Midway through the half and it was clear that Derry were slipping off the pace, constantly pressured by Pat's' relentless pass and move football. From the visitor's bench there were loud exhortations to inject some energy but despite an effort from Conor Murphy that was marginally too high, it was the home side that continued to dictate the game.
Barry Molloy and Mark Farren were both carded, as much a comment on their frustration as on any malicious intent. And when Murphy released Pat McEleney through the middle seven minutes before the break, he was quickly out-paced and smothered by numerous home shirts.
But the home fans have seen this before, a dominant performance cruelly spiked by an inability to generate end product. And when Marc Brolly spun a fine shot narrowly over in the final moments of the half, there was an unwelcome sense of déjà vu in the home stands.
If the beginning of the game had been eventful, the start of the second period was anything but. Pats seemed to have tired themselves out and Derry looked like a side that had decided to temper their ambitions in favour of solidity. The result was unexciting.
As nothing much continued to happen the crowd voiced their displeasure, looking for a more direct approach. With 55 minutes played Fagan tried to play Chambers in through the middle but Doherty came out sharply to intervene. It all looked like very hard work.
But two minutes later all had changed. Carroll started a move that saw Chambers play Fagan into space on the left. He in turn played a perfect low ball into the path of Sean O'Connor who side-footed ruthlessly into the roof of the Derry net from point blank range.
It was a magnificent goal, and a reminder of what Pats can do when everything falls into place. With the deadlock broken the game took on the aspect of a well known play. The energies of the performers suggested an unadventurous plot in which a 1-0 win for the home side was seen as a morally appropriate outcome.
Buckley attempted to inject some renewed sense of purpose, sending Vinny Faherty on to replace lone striker Fagan, but it was Derry who were coming closest to upsetting the script.
Mark Farren headed wide from Simon Madden's cross on 65 minutes, and four minutes later a foul on Ryan McBride resulted in a free right on the lip of Pats' box. Pat McEleney chose power over finesse and blasted into the wall. A brief period of pinball followed before McBride's header fell into Barry Murphy's hands.
The final quarter hour contained enough spark to keep alive the possibility of another goal, for either side, but not enough to deem it a likelihood. And as each sortie forwards was scuppered by some class of a mistake or another there was a growing acceptance that this was how it was meant to be.
With five minutes left on the clock Greg Bolger sent Jake Kelly scampering through, only to be denied by the feet of the out-rushing Doherty. But within a minute the winger had made amends, and rewritten the seemingly inevitable score-line.
Bolger was again the instigator, sending Chris Forrester away down the right. He played an inch perfect ball across the six yard box to the back post, where Kelly arrived like the proverbial steam-train, and powered the ball home from a matter of feet.
Then, deep in added time, Vinny Faherty swivelled onto a ball at the edge of the Derry box and unleashed a lethal finish that dipped over Doherty but under his crossbar. It was a devastatingly clinical finish to a game that, for long periods, lacked such decisiveness. But Liam Buckley and his players will be delighted to have taken their due reward, albeit belatedly, when other such occasions throughout the season had seen them fall short.
St Patrick's Ath: Barry Murphy; Ger O'Brien, Conor Kenna, Kenny Browne, Ian Bermingham; Sean O'Connor (Chris Forrester 77), John Russell, James Chambers (Greg Bolger 72), Jake Carroll, Jake Kelly; Christy Fagan (Vinny Faherty 68).
Subs not used: Brendan Clarke, Aidan Price, Pat Flynn, Ryan Coombes.
Bookings: Bermingham (52).
Derry City: Ger Doherty; Simon Madden, Stuart Greacen (Ryan McBride 33), Shane McEleney, Barry McNamee; Marc Brolly (Michael Duffy 65), Barry Molloy, Ruaidhri Higgins, Patrick McEleney; Mark Farren (Ryan Curran 77), Conor Murphy.
Subs not used: Eugene Ferry, Caoimhin Bonner, Tony McNamee, Matthew Rooney.
Bookings: Molloy (24), Farren (36), Brolly (64).
Referee: Rob Rogers.
Extratime Man of the Match: Sean O'Connor.