Michael Rafter was on the double as Derry City eased to a win over a limp Bray Wanderers at Brandywell, stretching their unbeaten run to six games.
Rafter netted in either half on a day when Seán Holmes will want to erase the memories of his first start for Bray.
Goalkeeping is the most unforgiving of professions and, here, that was borne out in the most harrowing of moments for the Seagulls’ rookie netminder.
It was in the 26th minute when Rafter took aim with a speculative shot from around 30 yards.
There seemed little danger with Holmes appearing to have things under control. And then it happened - Holmes’ worst fears came to pass.
Momentarily, but ever so crucially, the 19-year old’s concentration shook as Rafter’s effort sailed towards its target.
Holmes made something of a meal out of it and, unbelievably, the ball dropped to the floor over his goal line.
When next the team at MNS convene to compile a ‘good, bad and ugly’ segment, this will be top of the pile in either of the latter two categories. How must he have wished it had been some sort of April Fool’s prank.
Holmes was installed in the starting line-up for his full Bray debut in place of the suspended former Derry goalkeeper Darren Quigley who was sent off late in the first half of Friday’s two-all draw at home to UCD.
Strangely, Pat Devlin had opted then to let the midfielder Daire Doyle – and not the sub Holmes - go into goal to face David McMillan’s penalty.
Bray had never really looked like causing an upset here – and their wretched run of results in the Maiden City is now just one win from 29 visits.
Derry had always had the look of the side that would come out on top – and Rafter’s double duly saw them oblige on an afternoon of ease for Declan Devine’s team, who were without the lethal Rory Patterson, as a result of the hamstring injury that forced him out of Friday’s win over Shelbourne.
With just 100 seconds on the clock, Simon Madden picked out the in-rushing Patrick McEleney, but his effort was off target.
Barry McNamee, restored to a more attacking, central role, picked out Rafter, who ghosted in around the back only to send a header into the arms of Holmes.
Bray hadn’t won here in 11 years, since a night in 2002 when Jason Byrne netted the winner in a 2-1 win.
Byrne, back now in his second spell with the Seagulls, might well have broken the deadlock here, but his lobbed effort from the edge of the box clipped the top of the bar on its way out. This was as close as either Byrne or Bray would come.
After Holmes’ howler, Derry continued to press, but the remainder of the opening period fell into something of a lull, though Patrick McEleney saw a curling strike whistle just over and Madden burst in to head at Holmes from Rafter’s teasing cross.
With just the one goal to their name, there was a certain apprehension about the hosts – that was until they doubled the lead ten minutes into the second half. Ryan McBride’s long ball out of defence found the feet of Rafter.
Having helped work the ball across to Patrick McEleney, Rafter kept up his run and the former Dundalk striker glanced his header past Holmes, who this time had no chance.
In the Derry goal, Doherty wasn’t threatened as the Candystripes coasted to a fourth League win of the season. It might well have been more, but Griffin nodded wide at the bar post while young sub’ Michael Duffy was thwarted by Holmes at his near post.
Early days these may be, but Derry remain in the mix and this is a win that, for a few hours at least, brings Derry to within two points of leaders Sligo Rovers, who are at basement boys UCD this evening.
Derry City: Gerard Doherty; Simon Madden, Shane McEleney, Ryan McBride, Thomas Crawley; Mark Griffin (Michael Duffy 75), Barry Molloy, Ruaidhri Higgins, Patrick McEleney (Patrick Kavanagh 68); Barry McNamee, Michael Rafter (Ryan Curran 84).
Subs not used: Dermot McCaffrey, Tony McNamee, Conall Kelly, James Gallagher.
Bookings: P McEleney (44), S McEleney (47), McBride (65).
Bray Wanderers: Seán Holmes; Peter Thomas, Kevin Knight, Eoin Hyland, Danny O’Connor (Ismahil Akinade 59); Daire Doyle (Dave Webster 62), Gary Dempsey, John Mulroy, Dean Zambra, Kieran Marty Waters; Jason Byrne (Conor Earley 83).
Subs not used: Shane O’Neill, Paul Malone, Danny Joyce, Stephen McGuinness.
Bookings: Dempsey (24), Doyle (57).
Referee: Rob Rogers (Derry).
Attendance: 750 (estimate).
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: Michael Rafter (Derry City).