A dazzling display by Derry City's Mark Farren ended Linfield's Setanta Cup dream at the Brandywell last night.
Striker Farren turned on the style and his hat-trick was completed with considerable aplomb.
Last year in this fixture the Blues found themselves two goals down with time running out but found reserves of energy from somewhere to come back a draw the game to the delight of manager David Jeffrey.
Last night, though, they were strangely flat from the start considering the extra few day’s rest they enjoyed after the cancellation of Saturday’s Big Two encounter.
And in the end might have been more comprehensively beaten. Derry boss Stephen Kenny was so keen to win this one that he gambled on losing league points on Friday night in order to keep key men fresh for last night.
City were already through to the semi-finals of the competition but they knew Linfield had to win last night to be sure of their place and they chased the game from the start.
It is a measure of how far Derry have come since Kenny’s return as manager that they were completely at ease against a team they have struggled to beat in what has become one of the season’s most compelling fixtures.
It wasn’t the strongest Linfield team and was weakened further when Conor Hagan was stretchered off in the 69th minute. By then, though, the Blues were two down courtesy of two quite stunning finishes from Mark Farren.
The first was a little cheeky, but in keeping with the confidence he has in his game at the moment as he opening the scoring in the 23rd minute as, with his back to goal, he causally flicked out a heel at Kevin Deery’s low centre, diverting it impossible slowly in off the post.
A slip by Jonathan Harkness allowed Deery all the time in the world to race through and then pick out the striker but that doesn’t take away from the finish
Derry should have been out of sight by the time in the 64th minute Farren netted his second.
Sammy Morrow this time turned provider, breaking quickly down the left wing with Farren timing his run to the back post to perfection to meet the ball on the half-volley.
The hat-trick was completed six minute from time when he nipped onto the end of a clever through ball from Morrow and as Mannus advanced the chance seemed to have gone but he coolly fired it in from the tightest of angles.
Derry were worried at the interval that they hadn’t made the most of their chances and that history could come back to haunt them. But they needn’t have been bothered as Linfield barely managed to carve out a serious attempt on Gerard Doherty’s goal.
Farren could even have had a fourth when he and Morrow got in behind the defence yet again in the 88th minute but this time Mannus managed to smother Farren’s shot at the edge of the area. The Linfield keeper had produced an excellent save to keep the deficit at just one going in at the break as Farren broke down the left and pulled the ball back for Billy Dennehy to unleash a shot from 25 yards that Mannus instinctively got a hand to.
DERRY CITY: Doherty, McChrystal, Gray, Morrow, Dennehy, McGlynn (Callaghan 78), Deery, Molloy (Higgins 86), Farren, McGinn, Delaney (Hargan 90).
LINFIELD: Mannus, Harkness, Gault, Murphy, Hagan (Lindsay 69), Curran, Ferguson, Bailie, O’Kane (McAreavey 48), Garrett (Miskimmon 58), Munster.
Referee: Anthony Buttimer, Cork.