O’Neill rues Derry draw
SHAMROCK Rovers fell asleep on the job and paid the price as the Premier Division league leaders were held to a frustrating draw at home to Derry City last night.
And Rovers boss Michael O'Neill admits that the Hoops will have to learn from this episode as they lost the opportunity to stretch their lead at the top after an in-form St Patrick's Athletic, who have dropped points just twice in their last nine games, are now right behind Rovers in second place, just three points adrift.
Derry came to Dublin with a record of one draw and two defeats from their last three away games and it seemed as if a night of real misery was in store for the Candystripes as Rovers tore them apart early on, taking a deserved lead through Gary McCabe on 25 minutes.
Damage limitation seemed to be the aim for Derry as they were facing into a defeat but Rovers stepped back and allowed the rejigged northerners back into the game through a secondhalf equaliser from Eamon Zayed.
“We were excellent for 30 minutes and deserved to be in front, but we stopped playing,” said a frustrated O'Neill after the game. “Derry pressed us, focused on stopping us playing and got themselves back into the game, got a foothold in the game.
“We stopped doing what had got us in front and lost our way a wee bit.
“I have to give the boys a bit of credit, they came back into it in the last 10 to 15 minutes and we were the more likely team to get a winner.
“But we had lost our way just before half time and that's something we will have to look at.
“We allowed Derry to stifle us a little bit when we were on top of the game. They got themselves a goal off a set-piece and we have to go and try to get ourselves in front again.
“We’ve to learn from that as a team and I'm sure we will,” added O'Neill.
Rovers had gone in front in the 25th minute when the impressive winger Gary McCabe, in spite of an obvious height disadvantage, headed the Hoops into the lead, connecting with Pat Sullivan's cross and beating Derry keeper Ger Doherty.
That could have opened the floodgates as Rovers were clearly in control against an off-colour Derry who were possibly showing signs of travel sickness – this was their third away game in a row and their second trip to Dublin in four days.
But Derry somehow enjoy games in the capital – three wins and two draws from their five games in Dublin so far this season is pretty impressive – and they got back into the game in the second half, drawing level through Zayed on 64 minutes.
Zayed showed why he's the league's top scorer when he got his head on the end of a corner from James McClean and beat Rovers keeper Alan Mannus.
Rovers kicked back into life in the last 10 minutes with Craig Sives and McCabe again forcing saves from Doherty.
“We weren't at the races in the first 20 minutes,” said Derry boss Stephen Kenny. “They dominated in midfield and caused us a lot of problems. We couldn't get a tackle in or keep the ball.
“But in the second half we showed more determination, and it was nice to score from a corner kick – we're the highest scorers in the league but before last night we'd hadn't scored from a bloody corner.
“There was more passion in the second half and it was nice to get something from the game,” added Kenny, whose side host Bohemians on Friday.