Dundalk 1 Derry City 0
After the Bray game in which they scored early then often, Dundalk, or more accurately Derry, kept the home support waiting for the solitary goal that would prove to be the winner this time. John Mountney came off the bench to score for a second successive game with his deflected effort here arriving just four minutes before the end of the 90.
In truth, it marked the start of the contest’s most exciting spell with what remained of what had been a subdued enough encounter producing a sudden succession of goalscoring chances as the locals first came within a whisker of doubling their lead and City, though six minutes of injury time, chased the draw they must sure have thought they had earned. In the end, the game will simply go down as an another small staging post in what is so far proving to be a fairly remarkable title defence by Stephen Kenny’s men.
Still it was not the game that most of the home fans would have expected as they arrived at Oriel. The betting and formbook both pointed to another comfortable win for the champions while a few of those who made the journey from Derry to see the game had clearly feared that their team might be in for something rather worse.
As it turned out, City competed well, making it tough for Kenny’s side in just about every area of the pitch and more than once going close over the opening hour to nicking a goal that would not have been outrageously against the run of play.
Against a side that was aiming to make it five in a row, they travelled with just one win to show for their previous six outings and the loss to injury of experienced players from key areas seemed to leave them particularly vulnerable to Dundalk’s trademark passing, pace and movement.
Ger Doherty's replacement, Shaun Patton, looked assured, however, while Ryan McBride marshalled the back four well and Philip Lowry worked hard to break things up in midfield. Another night, none of it might have been enough but for long stretches here, the effort kept City very firmly in it against opponents who lacked their normal rhythm.
Dundalk created a succession of half chances with David McMillan getting things started very early on when he capitalised on a Shane McEleney mistake before rushing his own shot which flew harmlessly wide. City could easily argue that they had the best two opportunities of the first half with Cillian Morrison heading a perfectly weighted curling Aaron Barry cross straight at Gary Rogers, who then played with fire eight minutes later by sidestepping the forward rather than clearing after taking a back pass. He only just got away with it.
The inevitable suspicion at the break was that the locals would simply step it up a bit after the restart and punish Peter Hutton’s side for not taking their chances but Dundalk continued to labour their way through the bulk of the second half.
Their intent was clear with both full backs clearly anxious to get forward and just about everybody in midfield looking for a way to open up the opposition but City kept their shape well, worked hard and got plenty of bodies behind the ball around their own area.
On the break, they looked to have a decent penalty claim when Paddy Barrett appeared to push Morrison inside the area, while at the other end the closest the champions came to a breakthrough was a couple of shots hit straight at Patton who gathered well on each occasion.
Mountney's chance may well have gone the same way had it not been for McEleney's unintended contact which left his goalkeeper helpless and moments later another substitute, Kurtis Byrne, should have scored after being sent racing clear as the hosts broke from a Derry corner.
In the few minutes that remained, City desperately tried to shift things forward and grab an equaliser but despite a couple of deeply uncertain moments around the Dundalk box, it simply wasn’t to be.
The league leaders extend the gap at the top of the table to seven points, at least until Saturday evening, and if the rest of the campaign goes to plan, few will remember or care that this win was not one of their better ones.
DUNDALK: Rogers; Gannon, Barrett, Boyle, Massey; Towell, Shields (O'Donnell, 66 mins); Meenan (Mountney, 70 mins), Finn (Byrne, 84 mins), Horgan; McMillan.
DERRY CITY: Patton; Sharkey, McBride, S McEleney, Barry; Lowry, Clucas; Timlin, McNamee (Houston, 86 mins), Jarvis; Morrison (Curran, 82 mins).
Referee: J McKell (Tipperary).