Aaron McEneff hits Hoops’ hopes
Candystripes complete clean sweep over Rovers to take control in race for Europe - SHAMROCK Rvs 0 DERRY City 2
When Derry City prevailed in Tallaght earlier this season, the inspirational Ryan McBride was the goalscoring hero.
His absence will always be keenly felt and applause in the fifth minute honoured the memory of the Candystripes’ dearly missed skipper. The main image used in the tributes that followed his passing was his celebrations at this venue.
Understandably, it took Derry time to get over the devastating setback and they have learned some valuable lessons in the process.
Clearly, they’ve taken them on board as they overcome rough spells to score a precious victory in Dublin 24 which gives them control of the race for third and European qualification.
Aaron McEneff has emerged as a leader across this campaign, and he followed in McBride’s footsteps by providing the key goal to complete a clean sweep from the three meetings between the sides in 2017.
That could be crucial, with Kenny Shiels’ charges now eight points ahead of Rovers, albeit with a game more played. The Dubliners’ momentum under Stephen Bradley has been checked by back-to-back Friday defeats.
Granted, it would be a surprise if a team outside the top four – and maybe the top two – lifted the FAI Cup this year, given the shape of the league table. Rovers qualified from that position last year because of Cork’s cup success. They have spent heavily in the intervening period, though, and need to move beyond needing favours to meet their minimum target.
In a game featuring two sides that like to attack, Rovers started brightly but there was an ominous sign of what was to come as Derry were more incisive when they advanced, with Rory Patterson’s header from a Ronan Curtis cross shaving the post.
The real moment of the half came just shy of the interval when the Hoops defence prepared for McEneff to swing in a free-kick but the talented midfielder had other ideas by going straight for goal from 30 yards with Tomer Chencinski’s desperate save followed by a block on Aaron Barry by new Rovers centre-half Lee Grace. Shiels fumed as ref Rob Harvey waved play on.
Rovers did respond smartly. David McAllister and Ronan Finn fizzed shots narrowly wide, with Graham Burke and Trevor Clarke prominent in the build-up.
With such an array of creative players on the park, a scoreless scenario at that juncture was a surprise. But a goal eventually came 20 minutes into the second half – against the run of play.
From the restart, Rovers had been the stronger side and, by the hour mark, a frustrated Shiels was on the sideline loudly encouraging his side to keep hold of the ball.
That’s their trademark, yet Rovers were doing it better and refusing to allow Candystriped shirts relax in their own half by constantly applying pressure.
But when the ball ended up in their own half, the hosts lost that intensity briefly, with the central midfielders switching off to allow McEneff to find the time to glide into a position 25 yards from goal, where he could send an exocet beyond Chencinski and into the bottom corner.
That rocked Rovers, who lost their way after Clarke was inches away from a leveller. They huffed and puffed while Derry squandered an array of chances on the counter, with Patterson and Curtis surprisingly wasteful.
However, they eventually wrapped things up in injury-time when the eager Chencinski came up for a corner and was then exposed by a poor attempt to get the ball back into the area. That fashioned the opportunity for Barry McNamee to majestically find the unguarded goal from 45 yards. Game over.
Shamrock Rovers – Chencinski, Madden, Webster, Grace, Byrne (Boyd 82); Finn, McAllister (O’Connor 87); Miele, Burke, Clarke; Shaw
Derry City – G Doherty, McDermott, Barry, Cole, B Doherty (Monaghan 65); McEneff, McNamee; Schubert (Boyle 81), Holden (Jarvis 57), Curtis; Patterson
Ref – R Harvey (Dublin)