For a spell here it seemed as if Ryan McBride had banished the memories of eight nights ago. A chance for redemption – provided by a well-converted 30th minute opener here – was denied as Michael Daly scored an 81st minute equaliser to extend Drogheda’s unbeaten run against Derry to seven games.
Daly steered past Gerard Doherty nine minutes from time that left the Brandywell in disbelief; for this was a game that they should have had tucked in bed long before Daly pounced and punished a hesitant home defence.
Harsh on City and harsh, too, on McBride as it had looked as if his shot at salvation had come.
Last Monday, a crunching tackle on Drogheda United striker Gary O’Neill earned him a red card and left his manager, Declan Devine, ‘bitterly’ disappointed as his ten men exited the Setanta Sports Cup. Here, he broke the deadlock for a lead that City should have extended if not at least held onto.
After Simon Madden burst down the right channel to cross for Rory Patterson, whose shot was well turned away for a corner by Gabriel Sava, the Drogheda United goalkeeper who was the bane of Derry’s night, the home side nosed in front from the corner.
Sava’s reflexes kept out a flicked header by Mark Griffin at his near post, but McBride crashed the follow-up to the net. The reaction to a 94th minute defeat that ended their run in the Setanta Cup could hardly have been better with City recording a 6-0 battering of UCD on Friday night in Dublin.
“There’s not much point in beating UCD 6-0 if we then go on to lose at home to Drogheda,” Devine had warned. This draw might well taste like a defeat for Devine, such was the dominance of his team on the night.
In his programme notes, he had called for his Candystripes to ‘redress the balance’ having had to jog his memory all the way back to July 1 2011 for the last time Derry had beaten the Drogs.
That was when Eamon Zayed netted twice in a 3-0 away win for a team that had only two draws to show for the six subsequent meetings of the clubs. Tonight’s stalemate only stretches a run that does not make for good reading for City. Michael Rafer made a goalscoring appearance off the bench in the Belfield rout and he was elevated to take the place of Thomas Crawley in one slight modification to the starting team sent out by Devine.
Their Setanta Cup exploits aside, it has been something of a frustrating start to the League campaign for Mick Cook’s Drogheda, who head to the north-west tonight with just two draw to show for their early-season endeavours.
A dour opening was punctured only by an 11th minute free from Patterson that Gabriel Sava, the Drogheda goalkeeper, got down well to beat away. This, perhaps, was the abiding image of the evening at large: Sava saving a Derry attack.
Chances were scarce by the Foyle in a low-key opening that finally ended when Derry got the edge thanks to that header by McBride on the half-hour mark.
There were anxious moments for home followers when, first, Paul O’Conor’s low shot caused confusion that was eventually averted and, then, Mick Daly’s stabbed effort deflected off an unknowing Derry head for a corner.
The fingertips of Sava denied City in the closing stages of the first period when the Italian dived low to thwart Rafter’s daisy-cutter after Barry McNamee – now in midfield following Kevin Deery’s withdrawal – had made the incision.
City were now beginning to hold the aces – and again Sava’s palms were warmed in injury time as he twice saved from Patterson, with Higgins failing to turn home after Barry Molloy burst past Brian Gannon.
McNamee and Griffin combined again 12 minutes into the second half with a slight touch from Sava enough to ensure the latter’s effort didn’t trickle over the line.
Patterson was becoming irritated by the heroics of the Drogs ‘keeper and the Strabane man was thwarted again after being put through by Rafter in the 65th minute, Sava spreading well at the feet of the attacker, who perhaps could have jinked around him.
If Sava was in inspired for at one end, Gerard Doherty was equally on form at the other. With City having only McBride’s opener for a breather, the door was always ajar for Drogheda.
Doherty saved magnificently from O’Conor before another superb save denied Shane Grimes the leveller.
There was a growing sense that their failure to capitalise on their greater share of chances might just return to haunt them. And so that proved when, with 81 minutes on the clock, Daly beat Doherty for a goal that left the small pocket of visiting fans in raptures and Devine slamming a foot against his dugout.
His frustration was understood and shared by the majority of the 800-or-so attendance as they filed out in the teeming rain.
Derry City (4-4-2): Gerard Doherty; Simon Madden, Ryan McBride, Shane McEleney, Barry McNamee; Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry Molloy, Kevin Derry (Thomas Crawley ‘39), Michael Rafter (Michael Duffy ’81); Mark Griffin (Sean Houston ’72), Rory Patterson.
Subs not used: Ryan Curran, Tony McNamee, Conall Kelly, James Gallagher.
Booked: Barry Molloy (60), Simon Madden (90).
Drogheda United (4-5-1): Gabriel Sava; Brian Gannon (Peter Hynes 72), Shane Grimes, Alan Byrne, Michael Daly; Graham Rusk, Gavin Brennan, Philip Hand (Eric Foley 46), Paul O’Connor, David Cassidy (Ryan Brennan 65); Declan O’Brien.
Subs not used: Stephen Quigley, Cathal Brady, Ryan Brennan, Michael Schlingermann, Jason Marks.
Booked: Shane Grimes (68).
Referee: Declan Tomney (Dublin).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Gabriel Sava (Drogheda United).