Academy Weekend Review – Sligo Rovers 1 Derry City 2

Our Under 19 men’s hopes of winning the Elite League were ended on Sunday afternoon at home to Derry City. Having led the league since the opening day, two defeats on the spin had seen us slip from first to third in recent weeks. It meant this game became a must-win before a final day trip to leaders Shamrock Rovers next Sunday. Derry sat one place and one point behind us after defeat to Cork last weekend but arrived in celebratory mood following their EA Sports cup final win over Bohemians on Thursday night. Like Rovers however, defeat would have signaled the end of their campaign before a final day reunion with the side they just beat on penalties.

It was a predictably cagey opening ten minutes only made notable for how often the referee’s whistle was blowing despite a couple of fairly innocuous challenges. One such decision on 12 minutes led to a free kick 40 yards from goal wide on the left. With the City defence expecting a cross, Kailan Barlow cheekily aimed a shot at the near post that bounced a foot wide and had the Derry keeper scrambling. That buoyed Rovers and moments later Barlow threaded a perfect pass to Josh Mulrennan, inside the right back, but his shot was dragged wide of the far post. We were clearly on top now as Cillian Heaney broke at speed down the right. He beat two players before crossing for Barlow unmarked in the centre but the ball was just half an inch too high as it skidded off the playmakers head and out for a goal kick.

The game came to a standstill just after the quarter hour when Derry midfielder (No.35) landed awkwardly high on his shoulder and neck. Thankfully though, he was up and walking around shortly after being substituted. The long delay meant the game receded back to how it began with no real chances created until the stroke of half time. Rovers had two corners and a succession of throws before losing possession and allowing the away side to break. Derry worked it well out wide to (No.2) who squared for Michael Harris to roll home the opener. Barlow incredibly smacked the crossbar straight from kick off as Rovers sought an instant response but went in 0-1 at the interval.

One goal five minutes before the break was followed by another five minutes afterwards. A ball through the middle of the pitch was cleverly flicked forward by (No.33) and immediately released Orrin McLaughlin. He was already on the turn and raced in on the home goal before smashing it off the inside of the far post and doubling City’s lead.

Mulrennan and Sean McAteer were replaced by Aidan McHale and Jason Devaney as Rovers pushed forward and Derry began to retreat. A wonderful pass from Peter Maguire over the top fell right in the path of the marauding left back Darragh Ellison, he got a touch to the ball before being wiped out just inside the area and the referee took no time to correctly award a penalty. Barlow scored to make it 1-2 with 20 minutes still to play.

It was all Rovers now as we forced several corners that caused panic in the City defence. Eanna Clancy had several shots blocked as did substitute Ciaran Jennings. The best chance though, fell to Barlow four minutes from time. The ball wasn’t cleared properly from a corner, and it fell to the Rovers’ number 10 who found himself through on goal just a few yards out and at a slight angle. Derry waited on an offside flag that wasn’t coming as Barlow shot low but without much power and the keeper managed to get across and push it wide. More corners and free kicks followed but to no avail while Derry twice broke and amazingly hit the crossbar with a shot from distance on each occasion. City effectively wasted time near the home goal as added time ticked away and the game came to an end. Bohemians 2-1 victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic moved them to the top of the league and four points clear of the Bit O’ Red with just one game to play.

Richard Mullan