Have Derry discovered the secret to stopping Dundalk this season following Friday night’s display at Oriel?
Derry City arrived at the home of the champions as a mid-ranking team shorn of several regulars, including their first choice goalkeeper, and the expectancy among the home fans was high – especially since the last time the Lilywhites played at the Carrick Road venue they beat Bray Wanderers 8-1.
However, it is Derry City who travelled home with their reputation enhanced. Despite a 1-0 defeat, courtesy of a deflected John Mountney effort, Peter Hutton’s team can take huge credit for their performance.
Every team has arrived at Oriel Park set-up to contain and counter-attack, with all previous attempts swatted away by the Town, who are unbeaten at home in the league since 2013. However, Friday night was different – Derry played in almost a 4-3-3 formation, where the two front wide players pushed out on the full-backs to prevent the overlapping runs from Dane Massey and Sean Gannon, which have been key for Dundalk in recent weeks.
The central forward pressed the centre backs – at times causing Dundalk to pass across their back line without making any forward progress. The midfield then pushed up to prevent Stephen Kenny’s men from building any decent passing moves or ‘give and go’ triangles.
However, the back four stayed somewhat deep so there was decent space between the midfielders and the defence but Dundalk couldn’t exploit it as they couldn’t get the ball through the hardworking City midfielders. Chris Shields wasn’t given the space in front of his back four that he usually has to release Richie Towell through the centre or the wingers on the touchlines.
Instead, a feature of the match was the many long, diagonal balls played out of defence to Daryl Horgan – a player in form at the moment – which gave the winger no chance to control or chase.
The only way Towell or Ronan Finn were getting on the ball was by scrapping in midfield – a far cry from the usual one-touch moves, which have been a feature of Dundalk’s play this year. Up-front for the Carrick Road club, because Derry City’s defence were quite deep, David McMillan had none of his usual space to run into, both behind the defence and down the channels.
He primarily received the ball with his back to goal, so wasn’t a direct scoring threat, and because the midfielders had to go deep to get on the ball they weren’t immediately available for McMillan to lay it off to. Both Daryl Horgan and Darren Meenan were forced to come infield to receive the ball, further playing into The Candystripes’ hands by congesting the centre of the pitch, instead of keeping it wide.
Stephen Kenny realised that Derry offered very little up front to trouble Dundalk’s goal so by replacing Shields with Stephen O’Donnell he tried to inject a little more tempo into the midfield and try to work through the midfield with short, sharp passing – a key attribute of the ex-Arsenal man.
However, the men from the Bogside held firm and never allowed Dundalk time to settle on the ball. Even the winning goal would most likely have been saved by the confident and competent Patton had it not taken a wicked deflection.
With quality performances from the likes of Mark Timlin, Dean Jarvis and Shane McEleney, Derry City carried out a brave, tactical and energetic performance that so nearly paid dividends.
Will another team be brave enough to try it and have a little more fortune than the unlucky Candystripes – who had a shot cleared off the line, were unlucky with a penalty shout and almost punished a few mistakes by Gary Rogers.
‘Pizza’ created a solid base and a decent set of ingredients in his recipe for success – all that was missing was the topping to finish it off.
Tom O’Connor, Pundit Arena