Shamrock Rovers edge ever closer to another title, in the manner of a canter, as they deservedly overcame a doughty Derry.

The Candystripes shocked the home fans with an early headed goal from Dan Lafferty but still went in behind at both the break and full-time, Lee Grace and Danny Mandroiu giving stopper Nathan Gartside no chance – and the well-wrapped-up home fans reason to warm up.

There was barely a spell in the game without something to enjoy, League of Ireland football at its best, the only thing missing being a few more thousand fans – especially those in the away section. That will all come soon.
It seemed like the seasons bypassed autumn – and summer simply became winter – this week, the biting breeze allied to a pre-match downpour reminding fans of the old days on approach to the ground. They were served up a cracker for whatever season.

Derry started full of swagger, with a 3-4-3 formation signalling their intent, going man for man against a Rovers back three in another throwback to another era; but their own back three had to swell the six-yard box on four minutes as Rory Gaffney swivelled and fired, set up nicely by Mandroiu.

That pair combined time and time again on the night.

Jamie McGonigle looks an increasingly astute signing by Ruaidhri Higgins and he was key to the opener. Ciaron Harkin won the ball back and, after Sean Gannon fouled McGoningle, Jack Malone's superb delivery was headed home by ex-Hoop Lafferty.

Will Fitzgerald challenges Aidomo Emakhu for possession

Gaffney then teed up Richie Towell in considerable space, Dylan Watts making a mess of his attempt after Gartside saved from Towell.

Rovers had a good spell before Alan Mannus got down low to save from a crisp Ronan Boyce strike three minutes before Lee Grace's bullet header on 19 minutes, the Carrick-on-Suir man all alone from Ronan Finn's superb cross.

Barry Cotter has made quite the impression since joining the Hoops. Just before the break he found fault lines down the Derry right and found Gaffney; the Galwegian flicked to Mandroiu; he coaxed the ball into the bottom corner. It was tough on Derry but that's what Rovers do: probe, probe and eventually produce.

The Malone foot-Laffery head axis that put City in front should have brought about a leveller on 52 minutes but the winger somehow missed the target when scoring seemed easily, Rovers really sloppy from a City corner.

On 64 minutes Gaffney's header prompted Gartside to get down and parry from Mandroiu's centre; moments later Finn's scuffed effort was deflected wide in front of the ever-more-noisy Rovers fan. Pico Lopes header over from the resulting corner.

McGonigle's curler then had Mannus scrambling; this was everything it promised to be and more; it was also a game remarkably devoid of fouls and cards (first yellow unveiled by whistler Paul McLoughlin after 72 minutes), with discipline key to both head coaches.

Promising teenager Aidomo Emakhu, so popular already with the Hoops aficionados, nonchalantly and cutely put fellow substitute Aaron Greene in at the death; Harkin, a brilliant reader of the game, fashioned a challenge of the last ditch variety.

Thus Rovers march on towards the title's retention; with Derry luring locals Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy back to Brandywell in 2022, they might not be a million miles off in 12 months' time.

As for 2021, they have a lot to fight for, while Stephen Bradley's Hoops show everyone how it is done.

Shamrock Rovers: Mannus; Gannon, Lopes, Grace; Finn, Towell, Watts (McCann 79), O'Neill, Cotter (Farrugia 78); Mandroiu (Greene 71), Gaffney (Emakhu 84).

Derry City: Gartside; Boyce, McJannett, Toal; Malone (Fitzgerald 75), Hery (McLaughlin 65), Harkin, Lafferty; Ogedi-Uzokwe, Akintunde, McGonigle.

Referee: Paul McLoughlin.