Shamrock Rovers scored two goals late on against Derry City to claim all three points in the Brandywell and their seventh win out of seven in this shortened SSE Airtricity League season so far.
Having led thanks to a first half Walter Figueira cross that avoided everyone to sneak into the Rovers goal, it seemed that Derry’s disciplined defence was going to get them the win.
However a comedy Colm Horgan own goal on 78 minutes and a Roberto Lopes winner three minutes later, means that the Hoops move six points clear of Bohemians – and eight clear of Dundalk – with 11 games remaining.
In the first half Derry City seemed happy to let Rovers have their back three retain possession, only pressing when the Hoops came towards the half way line.
Rovers had most of the ball during the opening 45 minutes but had very little penetration. Aaron Greene up top on his own was well marshalled by Ally Gilchrist and Eoin Toal.
Jack Byrne showed glimpses of what he could do – ghosting by three Derry City players on one occasion. Gerardo Bruna went in the book after only eight minutes for going right through the back of the Ireland international and McCormack got a yellow for something similar on Byrne in the second half.
Derry didn’t create any chances of note and when they went ahead it came from a fortuitous route. Toal stepped forward with a good run and fed Figueira and his cross from wide left just cleared Lopes’ head and, despite the despairing dive from Alan Mannus, it went in off the far post to give the home side the lead nine minutes from the break.
With five subs allowed following the season re-start, Bradley was quick to use of two of them at half time bringing on Neil Farrugia and Graham Burke to provide more attacking options.
Another two changes in quick succession after the hour mark striker as Rory Gaffney was brought on at the expense of Joey O’Brien with Aaron Greene going off with Dean Williams coming on.
It was brave by Bradley who was chasing the game but his switches made all the difference.
On 78 minutes Gaffney’s cross was flicked onto the post by Dean Williams but the ball cruelly for City bounced out onto Horgan’s head and back into the net for an own goal.
Three minutes later it looked like Williams would score but Peter Cherrie did really well to touch Williams’ effort with his foot behind for a corner. From the set piece Byrne and Burke switched a couple of passes between each other and Burke’s centre came to Lopes and the Cape Verde international finished from the edge of the six yard box.
There was still more late drama to come with Derry having two chances to equalise in injury time. First Alan Mannus got down well to his right to hang onto a low Figueira effort.
The ‘keeper wasn’t able to get to a flicked corner moments later but it clattered off the cross bar. With Eoin Toal diving in on the rebound Mannus somehow stayed on this feet and was able to batt the ball away to secure the victory for the Hoops.
“Delighted to get the win,” said Rovers’ Sporting Director Stephen McPhail speaking to eirSport after the game. “We were hanging on at the end but it is a vital three points. We showed character."
Derry City: Peter Cherrie; Colm Horgan, Ally Gilchrist, Eoin Toal, Ciaran Coll; Conor McCormack (c); Joe Thomson (Adam Hammill 83), Gerardo Bruna (Ciaron Harkin 71); Jack Malone (Darren Cole 83), James Akintunde (Stephen Mallon 71), Walter Figueira.
Subs not used: Nathan Gartside (gk), Mark McChrystal, Conor Clifford.
Booked: Gerardo Bruna (8), Jack Malone (31), Conor McCormack (60), Joe Thomson (73)
Shamrock Rovers: Alan Mannus; Joey O’Brien (Rory Gaffney 63), Roberto Lopes, Lee Grace; Ronan Finn © (Rhys Marshall 76), Gary O’Neill, Jack Byrne, Aaron McEneff, Dylan Watts (Graham Burke h/t), Daniel Lafferty (Neil Farrugia h/t); Aaron Greene (Dean Williams 68).
Subs not used: Leon Pohls (gk), Liam Scales.
Referee: Derek Tomney
Extratime.ie Player of the Match: Eoin Toal (Derry City).