Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk side have developed a good habit of scoring late, late goals at The Brandywell.
Almost a year to the day that Tiarnan Mulvenna’s 93rd minute strike secured a 1-0 win at the venue, Richie Towell’s deflected effort, in the fifth minute of stoppage time, earned the Lilywhites a valuable point in the Maiden City on Friday night.
Towell’s goal keeps Dundalk at the top of the SSE Airtricity League table, one point ahead of Cork City who have a game in hand.
For so long, it looked like a rejuvenated Derry City were on course for the win. Despite the loss of Cliff Byrne - the City skipper shown a straight red card following an off the ball incident with Patrick Hoban with 20 minutes remaining - it looked like Peter Hutton’s side had done enough to bank a 2-1 victory.
This Dundalk side don’t quite know the meaning of defeat however and they once again produced a late rabbit from the hat. Their three point lead at the top may have been cut to the minimum but this point could prove very significant in the destination of the league title.
A disappointing first-half exploded into life right before the half-time break but prior to the goals, there was little to write home about.
The natives looked set to open the scoring in the 9th minute when McNamee whipped a dangerous ball across goal but Dane Massey was on hand to make a fantastic interception to deny Mark Timlin a simple tap in.
Massey was involved at the other end eight minutes later, rising highest to meet a Darren Meenan free-kick only to guide his header over the top.
Both sides were playing their first game after the mid-season break but Dundalk looked jaded for much of the first period and without the suspended David McMillan and Patrick Hoban - the latter named on the bench - they lacked presence up front.
Despite that, they took a fortunate lead in the 44th minute. Richie Towell’s clipped pass into the Derry City penalty area glanced off Barry Molloy and Byrne, who had struggled to make an impact up to that point, made no mistake to beat Ger Doherty from close in.
The Dundalk striker looked to have been in an offside position when the ball left Towell’s foot but the flag stayed down, much to the annoyance of those in red and white shirts.
That frustration was also borne from an earlier decision by referee Rogers to rule out a Rory Patterson attempt after 25 minutes. Picked out by McNamee on the inside left, Patterson lifted a sublime effort over Peter Cherrie but the goal was chalked off for offside.
Derry, however, responded immediately after Byrne’s opener. It was characteristic of their display on the night and, under Hutton, they look a completely different proposition than the Derry City from the Roddy Collins era.
Again, there was a stroke of luck to the goal. McNamee somehow managed to jink his way through a crowd of bodies on the edge of the Dundalk penalty area before placing the ball home from close range.
Just seven minutes had elapsed in the second-half when Duffy broke through the Dundalk midfield and smashed a fantastic effort past Cherrie from all of 25-yards. The Scottish goalkeeper knew what was coming but couldn’t keep it out.
Kenny responded by introducing Marc Griffin in place of Daryl Horgan and the former Derry City player had a chance to make a major impact when he seized upon a slack backpass by Duffy in the 67th minute but, with only Doherty to beat, he thrashed at the ball, hitting the pole that suspends the netting on the goal.
There was controversy in the 70th minute when Cliff Byrne was given his marching orders. Hoban, who was on the pitch a matter of seconds, intimated that the Derry skipper had been using his elbows.
Dundalk huffed and puffed but their chances of rescuing the game looked to have went when Kurtis Byrne smashed a difficult volley over the bar with six minutes to go.
But, with four of the five added minutes elapsed, Darren Meenan showed great determination to keep substitute Ruaidhri Higgins’ cross field pass in play on the right before driving behind enemy lines. The winger had plenty of options but he chose correctly, picking out Towell whose 20-yard effort deflected past Doherty to send the away fans into raptures and keep Dundalk on top of the pile.