All square at the Brandywell
A REPEAT scoreline of the sides' earlier meeting this season; in some respects very similar, in others not a patch. Derry City's fighting spirit is well known, and was exemplified by their comeback from 2-0 down at Tolka Park. Shelbourne's character is less readily acknowledged, but was mightily apparent in twice equalising at the Brandywell on Saturday night.
Shelbourne outplayed Derry in the first half at Tolka, before buckling under the weight of City's powerful comeback in a game studded with four high quality goals. Here, Derry took the lead early in each half, and while ahead for 51 minutes of the 90, looked set to open up a nine point gap between the two before the predatory Pat Morley pinched an 85th minute equaliser with perhaps the pick of the night's four goals.
However, like much of the match, none of them were, things of beauty. The air was thick with tension and some frantic, frenetic football reflected all of this. A light, bouncy ball and a blustery wind didn't help.
Absorbing and compelling though it was, it wasn't a classic and according to Derry manager Felix Healy "it was never going to be".
No? He admitted, "we can play a lot better," before adding: "at times they (Shelbourne) play nice football and put four or five passes together. Football's about end product."
In any event, Damien Richardson perhaps made a telling observation when commenting afterwards: "I can see the aftermath of the Bohemians match in them (Derry)." This was in reference to the high voltage encounter at the Brandywell a month before the fall out of which was perhaps reflected in a sleeves rolled up, almost Wimbledonesque performance from the home side.
"It's definitely a them and us situation," added Richardson. "I
would advise them to be themselves. It's not for me to advise anybody else, but you can only be yourself. The game suffered because in trying to prove so much which you can understand, they (Derry) are forcing it almost."
No doubt Healy and co will take umbrage over Richardson's "advice" and any mention of Wimbledon, but in a sense that only underlines the them and us theory. The match programme referred to "Dublin xenophobes". Ah, c'mon out of that! We love yez.
The crowd too, spent much of the night berating the excellent John McDermott, chanting "Cheat, cheat" at various intervals. True, the free count was a remarkable 31-14 in the visitors' favour, though this reflected more on Derry's sleeves rolled up approach than any refereeing bias - they committed 18 fouls to 10 and were frequently ensnared in Shelbournes offside trap.
A few nuggets of skill from James Keddy and a half fit Liam Coyle apart, Derry's football revolved almost exclusively around getting Peter Hutton in behind the Shelbourne back four or propelling the ball forward early, high and often to pressurise Alan Gough, who ended the game, appropriately, airborne and with two Derry players crashing into him.
The Shelbourne goalkeeper had a torrid night and might have enjoyed more protection. He appeared to be impeded when failing to gather Gavin Dykes' nod on for the 10th minute opener; Sean Hargan volleying home in the ensuing scramble. Likewise though, Derry keeper Tony O'Dowd was clearly impeded by Davey Campbell as Pat Scully converted Tony Sheridan's inswinging 23rd minute corner.
Derry regained the lead with another inswinging corner inside 90 seconds of the restart; Hargan flicking on Richie Purdy's delivery before any one of three away defenders - most probably Scully - were given the credit for the final touch.
Campbell gave way to a knee injury as Richardson gambled with an extra forward - Dessie Baker's fresh legs roving from behind the front two. Tony Sheridan at last began to find some space and influenced things, Pascal Vaudequin flicking his hanging cross inside to Stephen Geoghegan whose shot was instinctively steered home by Morley on the turn.
Without playing at all well, as Richardson conceded, Shelbourne deserved their point - as Derry had done at Tolka. So, although this result would have better received by Derry beforehand, it wasn't afterwards. "It keeps the league very much alive," said Richardson.
"A draw from our point of view is not a bad result," Healy said, more in consolation than anything else. "We're in the best position. Tonight I thought we were a wee bit nervous. We are a young side and that was certainly new to some of the players.
But there'll be plenty more tub come.