Derry City fell victim to the ultimate sucker punch as a game they appeared on the verge of winning was snatched from them at the Brandywell last night.
They were perhaps victims of their own ambition as substitute Tadhg Purcell exploited the largest of gaps in the Derry defence – with half of it missing - to steer the ball home seven minutes from time.
At the time Derry were pressing ever harder for the victory they knew they needed if they were to stay in touch at the top of the eircom League and in the dying stages were committing even more men in attack.
It seemed almost a safe bet as Rovers had barely mounted an attack worthy of the name, particularly after the break when Derry were doing all the running. But the Dubliners were a handful on the break and Derry had reason to be grateful to the defensive nous of Peter Hutton on more than one occasion.
A doubt before the game after suffering a groin in jury last week, Hutton was magnificent at the heart of the City defence and the rolled back the years with a quite brilliant interception with an overhead kick on the edge of his own area to stop Padraig Amond going clean through on keeper Gerard Doherty.
But that was a rare moment of action near the City goal with Derry showing a distinct sense of urgency to get in front from the early stages. They were aware that bottom side Cobh were unlikely to inflict much damage on leaders Bohemians and by half-time word
had filtered back that Bohs were leading in Dublin.
By then Derry should also have been one to the good and but for a little good fortune on the part of the Rovers defence, they would have been.
Niall McGinn’s was causing Rovers all sorts of problems and it was his perfect cross found which found Ciaran Martyn inside the box.
However Martyn somehow got ball stuck beneath his feet and he could produce only the weakest of shots when he is normally so deadly from those situations.
Kevin Deery looked for all the world as though he had finally found a way through with a wonderful free kick in the 50th minute, but it curled just wide of Barry Murphy’s goal.
Martyn had another great chance nine minutes from time with a great turn in the area but he too saw his powerfully struck shot go just too high.
Within two minutes Derry were behind and more than aware that their league challenge is all but certainly over.
DERRY CITY: Doherty, Hutton, Gray, Higgins, Martyn, McGlynn, Deery, Farren (McHugh 75), McGinn, Delaney, Stewart (Morrow 66).
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Murphy, O’Brien, Treacy, Price (Doyle 35), Flynn, McGill, Maddan, Rice, Amond, Leech (Purcell 64), O’Connor (Stapleton 76).
Referee: Hugo Whorisky (Meath).