Dundalk and Derry City played out a breathless second half at Oriel Park on Sunday afternoon with Cian Kavanagh’s late header securing the visitors a share of the spoils.
After going in 1-0 down at the break to Ben Doherty’s strike, Dundalk turned the game on its head just past the hour mark with two goals in the space of 50 seconds from Robbie Benson and Johannes Yli-Kokko.
The Candystripes responded in the 79th minute when Kavanagh guided a Will Patching free-kick past Nathan Shepperd and Dundalk had to play the final three minutes plus stoppage time with 10 men before referee Robert Hennessy brought a thrilling second half to a close.
Stephen O’Donnell made four changes to the side that was beaten in Cork on Easter Monday with Williams, Benson, John Martin and Keith Ward all named in the starting XI and that swelled to five when Andy Boyle had to withdraw with an injury in the warm-up, the skipper’s place in defence going to Darragh Leahy.
Dundalk were still adjusting to the change when the game kicked off and Derry almost hit the front after just three minutes when Sadou Diallo rattled Shepperd’s crossbar with a fierce drive.
Things proved to be relatively uneventful after that with both sides struggling to fashion any clear-cut opportunities. John Martin’s switch in play almost set Ward away but Brian Maher did well to spring from his box and clear the danger.
Dundalk’s best moment came in the 39th minute when Archie Davies cut inside Ciaran Coll and let fly with a half volley but Maher did well to push it behind for a corner. That opportunity came seconds after O’Donnell was forced into another alteration when Greg Sloggett was carried off on a stretcher with an ankle injury to be replaced by Yli-Kokko.
Derry edged in front before the interval with the first shot on target of the afternoon when Doherty nicked the ball off Yli-Kokko, exchanged passes with Ryan Graydon, and curled a fine left-footed effort past Shepperd in the 44th minute.
HT: Dundalk FC 0-1 Derry City
O’Donnell turned to his bench again in the second half and the introduction of Rayhaan Tulloch and Patrick Hoban gave the Lilywhites plenty of impetus.
The home crowd started to sense a revival was on the cards and when Tulloch saw a penalty appeal waved away by referee Rob Hennessy, with O’Donnell booked in the aftermath, the temperature started to rise at Oriel Park.
What followed was two goals in as many crazy minutes with Benson rising to glance a Keith Ward free-kick past Maher in the 71st minute to record his 10th goal against Derry City.
Fifty seconds later, Dundalk went in front when Yli-Kokko dispossessed Diallo and waltzed through the Derry backline to slide the ball past Maher to send the home crowd into raptures,
Dundalk went in search of a killer third and Benson had a massive shout for a penalty waved away by Hennessy when he went down under a Shane McEleney challenge in the xx minute. Yli-Kokko was booked for protesting.
Ruaidhri Higgins responded by throwing former Dundalk winger Michael Duffy into the fray but it was another substitute, Kavanagh, who ensured the spoils were shared when he rose to meet Patching’s free and loop a header over Nathan Shepperd.
There was still time for another twist and Dundalk had to play the final three minutes plus stoppage time with 10 men after Wasiri Williams was shown a straight red card for a tackle on Ollie O’Neill on the halfway line and Duffy almost won it for the visitors in the dying seconds when he cut back onto his right foot only to see his curling effort fly wide of Shepperd’s post.
FT: Dundalk FC 2-2 Derry City
DUNDALK FC: Nathan Shepperd, Archie Davies, Hayden Muller, Darragh Leahy, Wasiri Williams, Robbie McCourt (Patrick Hoban 51), Greg Sloggett (Johannes Yli-Kokko 36), Robbie Benson, Connor Malley (Alfie Lewis 86), Keith Ward (Ryan O’Kane 86), John Martin (Rayhaan Tulloch 51). Subs not used: Paul Doyle, Peter Cherrie (GK), Mark Byrne (GK).
DERRY CITY: Brian Maher, Ronan Boyce, Ciaran Coll (Michael Duffy 76), Shane McEleney, Cameron McJannet, Sadou Diallo, Adam O’Reilly, Ryan Graydon (Ollie O’Neill 76), Jordan McEneff (Will Patching 45), Ben Doherty Jamie McGonigle (Cian Kavanagh 53). Subs not used: Tadhg Ryan (GK), Colm Whelan, Brandon Kavanagh, Matthew Ward.
REFEREE: Rob Hennessy. ATTENDANCE: 2,377.