Sligo Rovers got their title defence off to a winning start with three hard earned points over Derry City at the Brandywell on Friday evening.
It was, as the old cliche goes, a game of two halves with Sligo dominating the opening exchanges especially down the left where Thomas Crawley and Barry McNamee switched positions, such was the torrid time Crawley was getting at left back. For the opening 20 minutes the home side barely saw the ball although no clear-cut chances were made. Just as Derry were getting back into the game, a beautiful through ball from David Cawley found Rafael Cretaro who squared to Anthony Elding who had the simple task of side-footing the ball past Gerard Doherty.
This setback seemed to galvanise Derry and in the 44th minute Mark Griffin was through but went down in the box. The referee, however, promptly booked him for simulation. On the half time mark Ruaidhri Higgins found himself in the book for a late challenge. Sligo certainly were worthy of their half time advantage and Declan Devine would have been relieved to hear the half time whistle to get a chance to reorganise.
Derry came out with a lot more impetus in the second period and the backing of the large crowd seemed to inspire an improved performance. In the 52nd minute Michael Rafter was introduced for the home side for Thomas Crawley and this seemed to bring more balance to the Derry team.
In the 58th minute some neat skill from Patrick McEleney found the industrious Rafter but the danger was snuffed out and Rafter again found himself through on goal in the 62nd minute but his early shot was poor and well over the bar. Derry were dominating possession at this point but the Sligo rearguard was holding firm.
Sligo could have extended their advantage though in the 80th minute when David Cawley, who was having a superb game, picked the ball up 20 yards out and his shot deceived Gerard Doherty before coming back out off the crossbar, where Anthony Elding just couldn't get to the loose ball.
Derry were throwing everything forward at this juncture in an attempt to salvage a point and a driving Simon Madden run and cross found the head of Ryan Curran who put it just over the bar. An Evan McMillan clearance off the line and a wayward Barry Molloy header saw the champions close out the game and Derry may feel unlucky not to have rescued a point after a valiant second half effort but Sligo showed the qualities that will certainly see them in the mix for a second successive title at the end of the season.
Declan Devine will have a lot to think about but will be pleased how his players performed in the second period.
Derry City: Gerard Doherty; Thomas Crawley (Michael Rafter 51), Shane McEleney, Ryan McBride, Simon Madden; Patrick McEleney, Ruaidhri Higgins, Barry Molloy (c), Barry McNamee; Mark Griffin (Ryan Curran 80), Rory Patterson.
Subs not used: James Gallagher, Tony McNamee, Sean Curran, Conail Kelly.
Booked: Mark Griffin, Ruaidhri Higgins.
Sligo Rovers: Gary Rogers; Alan Keane, Gavin Peers (c), Evan McMillan, Seamus Conneely; Rafael Cretaro (Pascal Millien 85), David Cawley, Ross Gaynor, Joseph Ndo, Ryan Connolly (Kieran Djilali 70); Anthony Elding.
Subs not used: Ciaran Kelly, Iarfhlaith Davoren, Jeff Henderson, Liam Martin, Marty Owens.
Booked: Gavin Peers.
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Attendance: 2,500 (est).
ExtraTime.ie Man of the Match: David Cawley (Sligo Rovers).