THE lights stayed on in Buncrana and the atmosphere was electric as this Derry City generation laid a bogey to rest.
Kenny Shiels’ side came into this game looking to end a winless run against Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk dating back to April 2013 – they had lost 11 of the 14 meetings in that window.
They came from behind in their temporary Maginn Park home to register a victory that will raise hopes that their stay in the Inishowen peninsula will be accompanied by a title charge.
Shiels’ men have taken full points from their three games that have lasted the duration, with the floodlight failure that prematurely ended their clash with Limerick the only disappointment.
For the fans who made the short trip to the sold-out venue, this was a sweet success on a number of levels with the presence of Derry men Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy in opposing colours a source of frustration.
But Shiels has assembled a hungry group with big ambitions of their own and they showed resolution to bounce back from a testing opening half-hour to get the job done – although they were helped by some poor goalkeeping from Gabriel Sava.
The visitors grabbed the lead on 15 minutes and it was set-piece efficiency that lay at the heart of it. Derry paid the penalty for failing to heed a warning. After his first header was blocked, Dane Massey made a similar run from John Mountney’s follow-up corner to dispatch a glancing header.
Dundalk deserved the lead and they were the more assured side in the aftermath, economical in possession while working very hard when out of it with Derry unable to get into any rhythm.
But Derry did start to compete as the interval approached, with the natives roused by a scrap between Ciaran Kilduff and Aaron Barry – the Dundalk striker was given a yellow for lashing out when a refereeing decision failed to go his way.
At the other end, Derry attacker Nathan Boyle – entrusted with responsibility in the absence of Rory Patterson – sprung to life. Just before the break, he struck a leveller that was all about his clever footwork inside the box as he wriggled away from Brian Gartland and Paddy Barrett and worked the space to slot beyond Sava.
That was against the overall run of play. Derry needed to up their performance level to compete after the restart and they succeeded in doing so with Dundalk surprisingly low on ideas and McEleney’s final ball letting him down when he fashioned a couple of opportunities.
Kenny sent for another ex-Derry man, with Thomas Stewart introduced for Kilduff and he did fire over a left-footer from inside the box.
Derry sensed weakness and with Nicky Low and Aaron McEneff combative in midfield, Shiels’ charges raised it a notch. The classy McEneff played a key role in their lead goal: Sava spilled his long shot into the path of Barry McNamee, who did the rest. Dundalk’s first-choice netminder Gary Rogers will expect a recall.
The setback briefly spurred the champions and they did pile on pressure for a spell. But they weren’t able to back it up and the shaky Sava hesitated when Low swung in a corner, with Derry skipper Ryan McBride capitalising. That assertiveness summed up the second-half story. Interesting times lie ahead.
Derry City – Doherty, Whiteside, McBride, Barry, Jarvis; Low, McEneff; Monaghan, McNamee, Curtis; Boyle.
Dundalk – Sava, Gannon, Gartland, Barrett, Massey; Clifford, Benson; Mountney (Kinsella 81), McEleney, Duffy (McMillan 76); Kilduff (Stewart 61)
Ref – P McLaughlin (Monaghan)