Derry City 1 / Shamrock Rovers
Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley praised Liam Scales’ alertness as the defender’s quick throw to tee up Rory Gaffney’s second-half equaliser earned the home side a draw with Derry City.
The Hoops extended their lead at the top of the Premier Division to six points as they extended their all-time unbeaten record in the league to 33 games.
Gaffney’s leveller, after Will Patching had given the Candystripes the lead from the penalty spot minutes earlier, was shrouded in controversy.
Derry were incensed as Gaffney’s goal was allowed to stand despite Scales appearing to take the throw-in a good 20 yards ahead of the point at which the ball had left the pitch.
Gaffney shrugged off the challenge of defender Cameron McJannet before curling home from a tight angle to move onto four goals for the season.
Both sides finished the game with ten players as Sean Hoare, who was booked for his role in conceding the penalty, and ex-Hoops Danny Lafferty were given second yellows late on.
Stephen Bradley introduced young strikers Dean Williams and Aidomo Emakhu, the 17-year-old on for his senior debut, as they chased a winner but both sides had to settle for a point.
The result reflected a close game but Derry boss Ruaidhri Higgins, who left Stephen Kenny’s Ireland set-up to take the reins last month, was disappointed by the manner of Rovers’ goal.
Bradley, by contrast, was grateful for the slice of luck and praised Scales for maintaining a high tempo as the Derry defence briefly lost focus, allowing Gaffney to profit.
“I would be more upset with my players for switching off to be honest rather than the referee [if the roles were reversed],” he said.
“We all know the multi-balls are there. You’re told that in advance of the game that it’s there and there for both teams, so there’s no surprises.
“Players run and take the nearest ball. If we are going to start asking the referee to spray where the ball goes out, we are going to be in trouble.”
Rovers had slightly edged a first half played on a pitch left sodden underfoot by heavy rain over Friday night and Saturday morning.
The home side were restricted to shots from range, Graham Burke testing Nathan Gartside with one, while Gaffney spurned a great chance on the stroke of half time.
Derry took a surprise lead within minutes of the restart as James Akintunde spun in behind Hoare and the former St Patrick’s Athletic man needlessly pulled him down.
Patching, the on-loan playmaker from Dundalk, stepped up and left Alan Mannus with no chance as he planted his spot-kick precisely in the bottom right-hand corner.
The concession seemed to shock Rovers into action and they put pressure on a Derry backline who were nevertheless fairly comfortable.
But they came unstuck when Scales quickly started play, perhaps expecting the referee to blow the whistle, and Gaffney took advantage of the confusion.
Rovers pushed forward but their chances of a winner took a blow when Hoare was sent off for hacking down Ciaron Harkin, however Lafferty followed suit minutes later as the game petered out.
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