Derry City 2, St Patrick's Athletic 2
KENNY SHIELS believes his Derry City side is 'moving in the right direction' and was encouraged by the way in which they battled back twice to earn a draw against St Patrick's Athletic as Aaron McEneff struck with six minutes to go at Maginn Park.
It was the third consecutive game Derry were made to come from behind to clinch a share of the spoils following 1-1 draws with Sligo Rovers and Limerick but twice they had to battle back against the Saints to ensure the point tonight in Buncrana.
St Pat's striker, Kurtis Byrne had put the visitors into a 21st minute lead but that was cancelled out by a terrific curling strike from Ronan Curtis six minutes before the break as Derry finished in the ascendancy.
Saints keeper, Conor O'Malley was in inspired form in the opening half which Derry dominated, saving nine of the home side's 12 shots on target but the visitors hit the front once again on 68 minutes following a spectacular lobbed effort from Conan Byrne.
Derry threw caution to the wind as they went in search of an equaliser in the final stages and when Conor McDermott poked the ball into the path of McEneff, the ex-Spurs man found the far corner of the net with a composed strike to spark celebrations at the Buncrana venue.
Given the midfielder was one of two enforced changes made by the Derry boss, prior to kick-off following groin injuries to Nicky Low and Nathan Boyle in the warm-up, it was a special moment for the Cornshell lad who returned after a two game absence due to a family bereavement.
And while Shiels was pleased with the character shown by his young charges, he was disappointed the three points went begging once again as their winless run stretched to seven games.
"I can see us moving on in the right direction but I'm just disappointed not to get the supporters three points," said Shiels. "We wanted the three points so badly. The effort and quality of our play at times was very, very good. The disappointment was not being able to finish off some of our chances.
"You can't let frustration get the better of you, however, and we must look forward to our next game as an opportunity to get three points. We could have lost the game at the end but we pushed people on and went for the goal and we got it. We kept pushing away and just couldn't get it over the line. It was just one of those night.
"That's four times from the last three games we've came form behind and got something from each game. That's a positive. But nothing really can change the fact we've drawn again. We have to start winning and get ourselves up the table."
Shiels had called on his team to be more clinical in front of goal going into the game but they found O'Malley in terrific form. He made an excellent double save from the impressive Ben Doherty and tipped Curtis' powerful effort over the bar in the first half.
"The Limerick and Sligo keeper were the same but that's the way it is," added Shiels. "You can feel sorry for yourselves or look to improve areas of your team in the next game and that's what we want to do.
"I was pleased with how we came from behind twiuce so that's a positive. We were on the ascendancy going into half-time and didn't want the break to come. We could have done something about the goals - they were a bit cheap but let's look at it from a positive perspective."
It was late replacement, McEneff who created City's first chance of the match on 10 minutes when he won the ball superbly deep in the Saints half. He drove towards goal and forced O'Malley to parry his shot away but it fell to Lukas Schubert and the Austrian's sliced his volley just wide of the far post.
McEneff was clearly fired up for this one and he dispossessed Gavin Peers before trying his luck again from distance and O'Malley needed two attempts to gather the ball.
It was the visitors who broke the deadlock against the run of play when Byrne latched onto a ball from Conan Byrne, he took a touch before poking the ball through the legs of Doherty at the near post.
Straight up the other end O'Malley produced two outstanding saves in quick succession, firstly blocking Kennedy's close range strike before palming Curtis' volley over the bar acrobatically.
The Saints stopper did well to block Ben Doherty's strike after a promising run on the wing and when the ball rebounded back into the path of the City left back his second attempt on goal was again saved by O'Malley.
St Pat's broke through the middle of the Derry defence ,moments later and let fly with his left foot forcing Doherty to palm behind.
Curtis netted a magnificent goal six minutes before the interval when cutting inside from the left before curling his effort into top corner of the net - his second goal of the season!
Kennedy should've put Derry into the lead on 42 minutes when Schubert did well to play him through on goal but his low strike from the edge of the area was saved by the feet of O'Malley.
Derry keeper, Doherty got a hand to Byrne's shot on the turn on 58 minutes to put it behind for a corner.
Substitute, Cathal Farren was straight into the thick of the action moments after coming off the bench on 65 minutes as he laid the ball to McNamee who blasted over the crossbar.
The Dubliner got back in front on 68 minutes courtesy of a lovely chipped effort from just inside the Derry penalty area which lobbed the back-peddling Doherty and into the net.
Doherty came to his side's rescue on 67 minutes when Kurtis Byrne brought down his namesake, Conan's ball over the head of Aaron Barry but the Derry keeper was quick off his line to block the St Pat's man's strike.
St Pat's substitute, Josh O'Hanlon was sent scampering clear by Darragh Markey but Doherty was alert to the danger and saved with his outstretched foot on 82 minutes.
With six minutes to go, McEneff picked up a pass from Conor McDermott and placed his shot into the far corner of the net with a composed finish to get Derry back on terms.
Derry City: G .Doherty; C. McDermott, A. Barry, D. Jarvis, B. Doherty; L. Schubert (M. Timlin 77), H. Monaghan (J. Daniels 84), A. McEneff, R. Curtis; B. McNamee; M. Kennedy (C. Farren 64); Subs Not Used - E. Grimes, R. Holden, S. Whiteside.
St Patrick's Athletic: C. O'Malley; M. Barker, G. Peers, R. Feely, I. Bermingham; C. Byrne, S. Verdon (G. Kelly h-t), L Desmond, B. Dennehy; D. Markey; K. Byrne (J. O'Hanlon 79); Subs Not Used - B. Murphy, P. Cregg, C. Fagan, J. Lunney, J. Bayly.
Referee - Neil Doyle.