Letterkenny Rovers suffered their first league defeat of the season on Sunday as third from bottom Derry City snatch an injury-time winner at The Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium to end Rovers unbeaten record.
Derry City Reserves 2 Letterkenny Rovers 1
An injury-time winner by Derry City’s John Parke, following a first-half strike by Derry’s Jack Malone and second half equaliser Johnny Bonner, was enough to inflict Rovers with their first defeat.
It was a rude awakening to football for Rovers in 2019, as they lacked the conviction they have shown in eight previous league games – a feat that kept them top of the Four Lanterns Ulster Senior League.
That three-point cushion was jerked from there grasp on Sunday, but their lack of fight in the first half left much to be desired.
Eamonn McConigley’s side had their bubble mercilessly burst and they now have a sufficient title race on their hands.
But the better questions will now lie on how Rovers respond rather than how they exposed a major chink in their armour.
It was an even first 45 minutes on the Lone Moor Road as both sides sought positive football in the opening stages, effectively canceling each other out.
Derry City Reserves, who started third from bottom on the day, began the brighter against the undefeated league leaders.
In fact, they built up some nice integrate down the left side, with full-back Ethan Harkin battling well against Rovers’ Ciaran Kelly until Harkin was forced off through injury in the second half.
After five minutes, Harkin sent an inviting through ball into the path of striker Sean McBride. Demanding the return, Harkin advanced into the box, but McBride failed to play the full-back in.
Rovers enjoyed the majority of the possession in the opening minutes, and after 11 minutes, Johnny Bonner presented an audacious flick to open up Letterkenny’s first chance of the contest.
Sending Declan Sharkey through on goal, Nathan Gartside did well to make himself big to deny Letterkenny the lead.
Rovers were limited in terms of opportunities in the opening half, but Gartside was sent scrambling when Bonner saw his effort go inches past the post.
The game looked like it was heading for a draw at the interval, but after 41 minutes Derry hit Rovers with a surprise goal.
Racing towards the edge of the box, Jack Malone was rewarded for having an effort on goal. Rory Kelly was unable to get across his line quickly to deny the deadlock from being broken.
In the second half, Rovers had an early chance to get themselves level.
Sharkey again was clean through, pouncing on a Derry defensive mistake, which they failed to adequately clear, but the striker was far from clinical in front of goal – sending his effort well wide, in what was a pitiful performance.
After 55 minutes, Derry City held their own and they should’ve doubled their advantage.
However, the striker couldn’t double the hosts’ lead following Ronan McKinley’s deft pass.
Rovers needed to dig deep if they were to retain their place at the foot of the league table and with the Derry defence starting to tire, the game opened up and with that, the Rovers drives started to accumulate.
Bonner’s encouraging outing came to an abrupt end when he was clumsily upended inside the penalty area, but referee John Coll waved played on – much to the dissatisfaction of the Rovers bench.
Any anxieties John Quigg may have harboured about his team switching off, however, were realised in the 72nd minute.
Bonner, who had been by far Rovers best player, levelled the scoreline with the most skillful of lobs you’ll see.
Trying his luck from the right side of the 18-yard-box, the formidable attacking player guided the ball over the head of a helpless Gartside.
From there – Letterkenny knew that Cockhill Celtic, who were playing Finn Harps Reserves, could have been hot on their heels, potentially narrowing the title race – it was full throttle from McConigley’s side.
After 80 minutes, Rovers probed for the lead and it should’ve been theirs when Damen McElwaine had a clear opportunity to snatch the advantage, but he couldn’t divert his shot five-yards from goal.
With time running out and Derry staying brave in their defensive duties, the game looked like a nailed on stalemate.
However, deep into injury-time second-half substitute, Jack Parke delivered the shock of the weekend, as he put Letterkenny to the sword, scoring the winner and inflicting Rovers’ with their first league defeat of the season.
Derry City Reserves: Nathan Gartside, Rhys McDermott, Ethan Harkin, Conor Gormley, Conor O’Doherty, Jack Malone, Dylan Devine, Evan Tweed, Sean McBride, Ronan McKinley, Finn McClure
Subs: Jack Parke, Ronan Boyce, Caoimhin Porter, Kian McGarvey
Letterkenny Rovers: Rory Kelly, Ciaran Kelly, Lee Toland, Ryan McConnell, Conor Tourish, Ryan Lonergan, Kevin McGrath, Christoper Malseed, Declan Sharkey, Johnny Bonner
Subs: Bj Banda, Lure Nelis, Odhran McMaucen, Damen McElwaine, Conor Duggan, Jonathan Coady, Blake Forkan
Referee: John CollTags: