Derry draw comfort from Rafter strike
St Pat's Ath 1 Derry City 1
An enervating ability to turn winning performances into draws cost St Patrick's Athletic last term, and old habits returned on a chilly night in Inchicore.
The losers in the November FAI Cup final between the sides were the better team here, but they failed to convert that dominance into goals.
Derry, who came into this game in second place, will view this as a good point, with a stunning injury-time save from Ger Doherty denying the hosts.
Seeking a third successive home win, the Saints kicked off confidently, with Derry surprisingly lethargic.
Liam Buckley's men earned a corner within 30 seconds, a portent of what was to come. They pressed hard in the opening period, with the visitors outnumbered in midfield and eventually pushing Patrick McEleney into a central role in order to help out.
However, the home trio of Killian Brennan, John Russell and Greg Bolger were generally sharper in possession, and chances followed – a Chris Forrester effort from a corner and then a foray into opposition territory by right-full Ger O'Brien, who shaved the bar with a left-footed rocket.
Bolger then called Doherty into action with an ambitious attempt from outside the area.
They got the lead goal that their efforts deserved in the 21st minute, although they enjoyed good fortune in the making of it.
First, an error from Simon Madden gave Forrester the opportunity to drift infield and take aim with a tame strike that was unwittingly blocked from reaching Doherty by John Russell, whose failure to get the ball under control placed it into the path of Conan Byrne, who dispatched from close range.
Derry were struggling and the bench were unhappy – assistant Paul Hegarty and striker Michael Rafter exchanged words after the latter passed up a reasonable opportunity.
The frustrated Barry Molloy then received a yellow for an ill-timed chop on Brennan.
The Candystripes have developed a useful habit of emerging from a difficult patch with a goal, however, and repeated the trick again by equalising before the break.
Uncharacteristically sloppy defending from the natives was the genesis, with the tricky Barry McNamee crossing, O'Brien and Kenny Browne getting themselves into bother, and Rafter emerging amid the scramble to clip into the far corner after some assistance from his strike partner Rory Patterson.
After confirming a deal to sell Jake Carroll to Huddersfield and tying up a new sponsorship deal this week, Buckley might be hoping there is a few quid available to strengthen his striking department in July. Christy Fagan, their main man last term, started on the bench here and was introduced to replace Anto Flood on the hour mark.
He would eventually be presented with two fine chances to take the three points, initially firing straight at Doherty when a mistake from Ryan McBride sent him through on goal. Forrester had previously threatened from distance.
Derry competed better in the second half and their highly sought after Barry McNamee went down in search of a penalty after burrowing past O'Brien but he received a yellow card for simulation.
With seven minutes left, they almost nicked the points when Ruaidhri Higgins headed inches off target from a Simon Madden centre, but they were soon back on the defensive and almost lost it at the death when a Fagan header was brilliantly clawed away by Doherty and sub Jordan Keegan sliced the rebound the wrong side of the post. Derry had escaped.
St Patrick's Athletic – Ryan, O'Brien, Kenna, Browne, Bermingham; Russell, Brennan, Bolger; Byrne (Keegan 82), Flood (Fagan 59), Forrester.
Derry City – Doherty, Madden, S McEleney, McBride, Crawley (McCaffrey 54); P McEleney, Molloy, Higgins, McNamee; Rafter (Houston 73), Patterson.
Ref – P Sutton (Clare)