Dundalk’s hopes of qualifying for Europe were dealt a big blow on Friday night as Will Patching’s brace helped title-chasing Derry City to just their third win at Oriel Park since 2013.
Stephen O’Donnell’s side enjoyed 72% of the possession and had 19 shots on goal but they were kept at bay by Derry City ‘keeper Brian Maher, who produced a man of the match display, while at the other end, defensive frailties cost the Lilywhites dearly yet again.
The result leaves Dundalk in sixth place, three behind fifth-placed Shelbourne and seven behind St Patrick’s Athletic, who occupy the all-important final European qualification spot in third.
After a couple of impressive cameo appearances off the bench, O’Donnell handed Sam Durrant his full debut and the former Sheffield Wednesday winger should have marked it with a goal after 10 minutes when Daryl Horgan’s dummy set him clear but Maher saved. It set the tone for what was to come.
The Irish U21 goalkeeper made a better stop 13 minutes later when he reacted brilliantly to push Horgan’s thumping effort away to safety.
The visitors had openings through their two Scottish imports with Paul McMullan going close before Danny Mullen scooped the ball over the top from close range just past the half hour.
Dundalk increased the pressure and both Hayden Muller and Patrick Hoban went close from successive corners before the Candystripes edged in front three minutes before the break when Patching broke, unopposed, into the box and managed to steer his shot wide of Nathan Shepperd.
That goal silenced Oriel Park and Derry almost doubled their advantage seconds later when McMullan invited Ben Doherty to come onto the ball at the far post but he blazed his shot off target.
The full-back didn’t pass up his next opportunity, which came just 71 seconds into the second half. Patching found space in the Dundalk penalty area again and even though Shepperd got down to make a brilliant stop, Doherty swept home the rebound.
Dundalk refused to lie down and Hoban saw a 52nd-minute header crash off the post before Johannes Yli-Kokko almost hauled the Lilywhites back into it with a ferocious effort that smacked the crossbar with Maher beaten.
Shane McEleney hacked a Hoban header off the line and then saw a sliced clearance pawed to safety by his goalkeeper before any hopes of a Dundalk comeback were wiped out when Patching made it 3-0 from the penalty spot after he was taken down by Daniel Kelly with 13 minutes to play.
Robbie Benson came off the bench to make a welcome return from injury and the midfielder became the latest player to be denied by the Derry City goalkeeper before Dundalk eventually found a way past Maher when Hoban converted a late penalty in stoppage time.
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd; Archie Davies, Darren Brownlie (Robbie McCourt 61), Darragh Leahy, Hayden Muller; Johannes Yli-Kokko (Alfie Lewis 71), Daryl Horgan, Connor Malley (Paul Doyle 61); Daniel Kelly, Patrick Hoban, Sam Durrant. Subs not used: Greg Sloggett, Cameron Elliott, John Mountney, Senan Mullen, Peter Cherrie (GK).
DERRY CITY: Brian Maher; Ciaran Coll, Shane McEleney, Sam Todd (Jordan McEneff 74), Cameron McJannet; Adam O’Reilly, Patrick McEleney (Brandon Kavanagh 81); Paul McMullan, Will Patching, Ben Doherty, Danny Mullen (Jamie McGonigle 64). Subs not used: Tadhg Ryan (GK), Michael Duffy, Cian Kavanagh, Tiernan McGinty, Callum McCay.
REFEREE: Damien MacGraith. ATTENDANCE: 2,861.