Patrick Hoban of Dundalk in action against Ciaron Harkin of Derry City. (Pic: Ben McShane/Sportsfile)
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Dundalk FC 1-0 Derry City
A forgettable season ended in defeat for Dundalk FC on Friday night as they were beaten 2-1 by Derry City, who recorded what was their first win at Oriel Park since 2013.
Despite the culmination of Dundalk’s worst SSE Airtricity League campaign in nine years, there was a renewed sense of optimism at Oriel, as Friday’s game marked the first fixture since a local consortium assumed control of the club from the unpopular Peak6.
Sean Murray’s first-half opener was cancelled out by goals from Ciaron Harkin and Jamie McGonigle for Derry, who by finishing fourth, will qualify for next season’s Europa Conference League – if St Patrick’s Athletic beat Bohemians in the FAI Cup final.
In the Oriel dugout for what was likely the last time as Dundalk head coach was Vinny Perth, who told The Democrat afterwards: “We started the game really well. There’s a league-winning team in our dressing room, but there’s not a league-winning squad.
“People have been crying out for 4-4-2 since Stephen Kenny and myself were here and different things. The problem with 4-4-2 is you’re quite open in midfield and we didn’t have a number six, but they were the players that I had to deal with tonight.
“We’ve had injuries, we’ve had Covid in the group as well over the last period of time. The players we had, we done our best with them.
“We had enough chances in that first half to go and win the game. In the end, Derry probably ran out worthy winners in one sense, but we certainly weren’t poor tonight. There’s a really good team there.”
The outcome on Friday was all but academic for sixth-place Dundalk, but Perth’s side started brightly and created the better opportunities throughout the opening 45 minutes.
David McMillan’s shot was blocked out by Cameron McJannett before Darren Cole got in the way of Patrick Hoban’s subsequent attempt, with Murray volleying over as a result.
Sami Ben Amar then had a penalty appeal waved away; not long before Murray’s incisive pass put Hoban through on goal, but he was brilliantly denied by Cole’s last-ditch tackle.
A neat exchange between Hoban and Darragh Leahy saw the latter’s cross flicked agonisingly wide by McMillan from close range as the hosts continued to threaten.
On the half-hour mark, Murray floated a free-kick up and over the Derry wall, but Nathan Gartside impressively tipped the Dundalk man’s effort over the crossbar.
The Lilywhites opened the scoring on 34 minutes when Murray dispossessed Harkin and got the better of Cole before firing a shot past the Derry goalkeeper from outside the box.
Two minutes later, Raivis Jurkovskis had an attempt deflected inches wide of the mark with Gartside rooted, while at the other end, McGonigle’s curling shot was pushed away by Peter Cherrie in what was Derry’s first clear effort on goal after 39 minutes of play.
Despite a lack of goalscoring opportunities in the first half, The Candystripes equalised right on the stroke of half-time, as Harkin – after collecting a Joe Thomson pass – was given the freedom of Oriel before unleashing a shot from distance which flew home beyond Cherrie; via a wicked deflection off Dundalk’s player of the year, Andy Boyle.
Moments later, a James Akintunde ball over the top found its way to McGonigle on the left, and he took it beyond Daniel Cleary before forcing Cherrie to save with his feet.
That was the last kick of the first half and the visitors remerged for the second with a spring in their step, as Will Fitzgerald’s shot produced yet another save from Cherrie.
Derry did take the lead seven minutes after the restart, and it was Fitzgerald who provided the assist for McGonigle as he slotted home into the bottom corner, despite the entire Dundalk back-four appealing to the officials for an offside flag that never arrived.
Dundalk came extremely close to levelling on 63 minutes, though, when after some industrious work by Sam Stanton on the left, McMillan flicked on for Murray, whose goal-bound attempt was somehow blocked off the line at the last by the superb Harkin.
The Lilywhites simply couldn’t fashion an equaliser after that, as Murray confidently took it beyond Harkin, but his final effort from distance fizzed miles wide of the target.
After picking up the ball just outside his own half, Cleary’s rasping shot sailed wide, while Hoban flicked a header off target from Daniel Kelly’s cross in the dying embers.
Dundalk FC: Peter Cherrie; Raivis Jurkovskis, Daniel Cleary, Andy Boyle, Darragh Leahy; Sami Ben Amar (Daniel Kelly 53), Cameron Dummigan (Mayowa Animasahun 90), Sam Stanton, Sean Murray (Mark Hanratty 90); David McMillan (Ryan O’Kane 68), Patrick Hoban
Subs not used: Alessio Abibi (gk), Sonni Nattestad, Michael Duffy, Wilfried Zahibo, Han Jeong-Woo
Derry City: Nathan Gartside; Ronan Boyce, Darren Cole, Cameron McJannett, Ciaran Coll; Will Fitzgerald (Jack Malone 81), Ciaron Harkin, Joe Thomson, Danny Lafferty, James Akintunde; Jamie McGonigle (Bastien Hery 88)
Subs not used: Jack Lemoignan (gk), Mark McChrystal, Gerard Storey, Evan McLaughlin, Michael Harris, Patrick Ferry, Caoimhin Porter
Referee: Neil Doyle (Dublin)
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