Dundalk 2, Derry City 2
RONAN Curtis kept alive Derry City’s hopes of reaching the FAI Cup Final with a dramatic equaliser four minutes from the end of a pulsating semi-final clash against cup holders, Dundalk at Oriel Park.
Dundalk held at two goal lead at the interval after goals from Derry boss, Kenny Shiels’ son, Dean and Ciaran Kilduff who netted that famous Europa League winner on Thursday night.
However, Derry bounced back to secure a replay on Tuesday night at Brandywell thanks to goals from Rory Patterson and Curtis - who netted his third goal in two games this week - to complete a remarkable comeback.
Stephen Kenny had made eight changes to the history making team which clinched that famous Europa League group stage victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in Tallaght three days previously.
And Kenny Shiels also freshened things up with both personelle and indeed his formation as he opted for three at the back in an offensive 3-5-2 line-up with Nathan Boyle accompanying Rory Patterson in attack.
Bit the big team news was the welcome return of skipper, Ryan McBride after seven weeks on the sidelines.
Derry made a promising start to the match and almost capitalised on a loose pass in the middle of the park from Dundalk captain, Stephen O’Donnell in the second minute.
Lukas Schubert intercepted and played Barry McNamee in space on the right side of the penalty area but the Ramleton lad fluffed his lines when completely mis-kicking the ball and it went harmlessly wide.
Ciaran Kilduff towered above his marker to met John Mountney’s corner kick 60 seconds later but the goal hero against the Israelis headed well over the bar.
Dundalk keeper, Gabriel Sava needed to be at his best to claw out Patterson’ s glancing header which was destined for the bottom corner from Schubert’s pinpoint cross.
Despite that bright start from the visitors it was Dundalk who took the lead on 21 minutes when Alan Keane crossed from the right and Shiels bravely got in front of McBride and sent his downward header into the net from five yards.
It proved Shiels’ last action of the game as he sustained an arm injury as he stooped to meet the ball for the goal. He was replaced by former City player, Patrick McEleney.
Derry were by no means disheartened by the concession of the goal and when Boyle laid the ball into the path of the onrushing Aaron McEneff on 34 minutes, his low strike from 25 yards was saved well by Sava.
In the final minute of first half stoppage time and with what proved to be the last kick, the man dubbed the ‘hero of Tallaght’ popped up to break Derry’s hearts.
Ex City playmaker, McEleney delivered a beautiful ball over the top of teh Derry defence and Kilduff took a chance, took a touch and placed the ball expertly past Doherty,
Dundalk came so close to ending this game as a contest five minutes after the break when McEleney found Kilduff at the back post with a terrific pass but the striker’s header crashed back off the post.
From a quick throw-in on 58 minutes, substitute, Ronan Curtis raced into the Dundalk area before fizzing a cross along the face of the goalmouth and with Patterson ready to pounce at the far post, Alan Keane did superbly to nip in and put the ball behind.
But the Strabane man did manage to get on the scoresheet six minutes later to give Derry a lifeline.
McEneff drove forward superbly deep inside the Dundalk half, made space before shooting towards goal and when Sava spilled the ball Patterson picked up the pieces and slotted into the net.
The tide was turning in favour of the visitors but time was running out. And yet with 12 minutes to go, following a swift Derry move, McNamee picked up the ball 20 yards from goal and his strike was palmed away by Sava.
The ball almost fell to Curtis but Paddy Barrett did brilliantly to block the danger and the chance was lost.
With four minutes left on the clock Curtis latched onto the ball inside the Dundalk area and struck his shot on the half volley into the corner of the net to send the travelling support into raptures.
The league’s top goalscorer, David McMillan somehow missed a glorious chance to win the tie in the dying seconds but he sent his effort over the bar from five yards.
The teams will do it all again on Tuesday night - not exactly what Dundalk will have wanted with their demanding fixture schedule.
Dundalk - G. Sava; A. Keane, P. Barrett, A. Boyle, S. Grimes; J. Mountney, C. Shields, S. O’Donnell, D. Horgan (R. Benson 72); D. Shiels (P. McEleney 22); C. Kilduff (D. McMillan 82); Subs Not Used - G, Rogers, B. Gartland, D. Meenan, S. Gannon.
Derry City - G. Doherty; N. Vemmelund, R. McBride (B. Doherty 59), D. Jarvis; C. McDermott, A. McEneff, C, McCormack, B., McNamee, L. Schubert (J. Daniels 80); N. Boyle (R. Curtis 52), R. Patterson; Subs Not Used - H. Monaghan, K. Ward, C. Castells, S. Patton.
Referee - Graham Kelly.