Tuesday 12 December 2017

Lacklustre champions experience a power cut

Dane Massey’s opening goal proved in vain on Monday night
Dane Massey’s opening goal proved in vain on Monday night

James Rogers at Maginn Park

After power failure on the opening night, this time the lights stayed on at Maginn Park.

Derry City 3 Dundalk 1

How Dundalk must have wished they didn't though as Derry City came from behind to inflict a first defeat of the season on the champions on Monday night.

It would be foolish to overreact to one setback, of course, but this loss has cast a shadow on what was an okay start from Stephen Kenny's side.

Dundalk hadn't had to move through the gears to claim wins over Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers and Limerick prior to their journey to Buncrana and when they needed to on Monday night they couldn't.

That said, this was a game the Lilywhites shouldn't have lost.

A 16th minute opener from Dane Massey had given them a dream start and while they struggled for chances after that, their command of possession meant that Derry were largely playing a game of containment.

Then a slack goal on the stroke of half-time from Nathan Boyle gifted Derry a way back in to the match with two really poor goals conceded late on meaning that it was a night to forget for the champions.

While no rash judgements should be made on the back of one result, Gabriel Sava is likely to lose his place in the side after a less than convincing performance. He was at fault for Derry's second and third goals and Monday night was not an isolated incident.

Over the course of five-and-a-bit appearances in competitive matches for Dundalk so far this season the goalkeeper has conceded nine - five of which can be deemed errors following two mistakes in the Leinster Senior Cup win over St Pat's CY and another in the President's Cup defeat to Cork City last month.

The 30-year-old just doesn't inspire confidence at present and perhaps the writing was on the wall from as early as the third minute when a poor clearance led to Derry's first chance. His kick landed straight to Ronan Curtis, who managed to find space on the left to cross for Harry Monaghan, who was unlucky not to steer his shot home.

Derry's next chance would be their 44th minute equaliser such was Dundalk's control after that on an admittedly bumpy pitch that was not conducive to strong running or passing.

Still, while Sava will take much of the flak for the defeat, those in front of him can do a lot better too. While they did well early on, midfielders Conor Clifford and Robbie Benson went missing when the going got tough in the second half and both wingers, in particular Michael Duffy, were largely ineffectual.

Kenny Shiels got his tactics spot on by deploying Harry Monaghan and Ronan Curtis in front of either full back and this limited the threat of Dundalk on the flanks. Still, it was a source of frustration that Duffy looked daunted by a return to face his hometown club given that he was up against a 19-year-old in Scot Whiteside, who was playing out of position at right back and who had played just 33 minutes of League of Ireland football prior to Monday night.

It was obvious from an early stage it wasn't working and perhaps changes should have been made soon in hindsight.

Kenny was right in saying this was a "careless" defeat.

Derry never really threatened and yet still managed to score three times.

It's a kick up the backside for Dundalk, who now must respond against St Patrick's Athletic on Saturday with one eye already on the trip to face Cork City the following week.

It's early days with many twists and turns undoubtedly to come in the title race but responding now in a positive manner is paramount.

The one consolation is that Dundalk lost their fourth league game of last season, against Cork, before responding with a 4-0 victory the following week against their next opponents St Pat's. As history tells us they would go on to defend their title in some style. A similar response would be more than welcome.

After Monaghan's early chance it was largely all one-way traffic without any real chances of note.

Indeed, it took until the 16th minute for Dundalk to threaten for the first time. John Mountney's corner was met by the head of Massey at the near post but somehow Gerard Doherty managed to get a hand to the effort to turn it around the post.

There was no stopping the follow up, however, as another superb delivery from Mountney was deftly flicked on by Massey with the ball flying to the right hand corner of the net. The pace on Mountney's delivery was superb and made the goal possible.

Dundalk largely bossed proceedings after that and bar one minor scare when Barry McNamee almost got in behind their rearguard on the end of Aaron McEneff's pass, it was surprisingly comfortable.

There was a half chance for the visitors to double their advantage on 35 minutes when another Mountney corner was met by the head of Paddy Barrett who headed just wide.

It looked like Dundalk would hold their lead until the break but on 44 minutes Nathan Boyle conjured up an equaliser out of nothing for the Candystripes. Taking down a high ball after Dundalk failed to clear from their own throw-in, the striker showed great footwork to get away from firstly Brian Gartland and then Barrett before slotting under Gabriel Sava.

While that goal was a blow, Dundalk continued to look the more threatening on the restart with Ciaran Kilduff passing up a big chance on 48 minutes when he got on the end of Patrick McEleney's cross from the right only to head wide under pressure from the superb Nicky Low.

After being substituted shortly afterwards, Kilduff's replacement Thomas Stewart then had a good opening on 68 minutes when he collected Gartland's ball out of defence to turn and shoot only to see his left footed effort flash over the crossbar.

It would prove a key moment. From possibly going 2-1 ahead, Dundalk found themselves 2-1 behind a minute later.

There appeared little threat when Aaron McEneff decided to try his luck with a long range shot from about 35 yards out but Sava failed to gather the shot with Barry McNamee on hand to mop up the spillage by slotting to the net.

The visitors were forced to take a few risks after that with Barrett and Sean Gannon getting their side out of jail on a couple of occasions.

The last time Dundalk led in a game and lost was last August when they went down 2-1 away to Bray Wanderers in the Carlisle Grounds. Any hope of avoiding a repeat of that was ended on 84 minutes, however, when Derry added a third.

Sava was statuesque as Low floated a corner in from the right and his hesitancy was punished as Ryan McBride nipped in to head to an almost empty net.

It was a night to forget for Dundalk. They can only hope for much better ahead.

The Argus

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