Derry City hit back twice to deny Stephen O'Donnell a winning start to his reign as Dundalk head coach at Oriel Park.

Goals from debutants Steven Bradley and Mark Connolly in either half had the Lilywhites dreaming of a winning start to the season but on each occasion Ruaidhrí Higgins men responded within minutes through Joe Thomson and Jamie McGonigle as the sides had to settle for a point apiece.

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In what was a fiery affair, both sides will feel they could have taken the three points with the hosts forcing several top saves from Brian Maher and McGonigle rattling the crossbar twice in quick succession at the end.

It will be the new look Dundalk who will be happier overall with their showing though.

O'Donnell handed debuts to eight players, not including the returning Robbie Benson, with Derry having as many ex-Lilywhites players from last season in their starting 11 as the hosts.

It was the home side who threatened first with a left foot drive from Sam Bone being spilled around the post by Maher. Benson’s follow-up corner then broke to Joe Adams but the Welsh U21 international could only scuff his effort into the grateful arms of the keeper.

Derry then went close themselves two minutes later when Brandon Kavanagh latched on to a McGonigle ball only to see his low drive turned around the post by Nathan Shepperd.

The Welsh keeper then had to be alert again on the quarter hour mark when he raced to the edge of his box to boot clear after McGonigle looked to have capitalised on a short header back by Connolly.

Bone then tested Maher again with another long drive that the Irish U21 international had to turn around the post on 22 minutes.

From the resultant corner a melee broke out after Bradley caught Ciaron Harkin with an overhead kick attempt.

Referee Rob Harvey lost control at this point, briefly booking Harkin before rescinding it but Bradley and Connolly did end up in the book for Dundalk with Thomson joining them from Derry.

Connolly then went close on 27 minutes when he headed just wide from an Adams corner.

The Louth men did find the breakthrough five minutes later though with a goal of supreme quality.

Dan Williams released Bradley on the right with the on-loan Hibernian winger cutting in past Ciaran Coll before rifling a shot past Maher to the bottom left hand corner for a goal that threatened to lift the roof off Oriel.

Dundalk had the visitors on the ropes at this stage with a large portion of the sold-out attendance thinking they had doubled their lead on 36 minutes when another long-range drive from Bone rippled the side-netting.

Derry would level on 41 minutes though much to the annoyance of the home side.

Andy Boyle felt he was pushed by McGonigle on the halfway line but referee Harvey was uninterested in his appeals, allowing the Derry striker to break free up the right before squaring to Thomson to rifle high to the net.

Dundalk almost restored their lead within a minute of the restart when a long range effort from Patrick Hoban was tipped onto the bar by Maher only for the ball to then bounce away from the line rather than across it as it fell.

The Candystripes then threatened with McGonigle heading just over from a Daniel Lafferty cross on 56 minutes.

They had a let-off a minute later though when Hoban looked to have played Robbie Benson in on goal but somehow Harkin got back to deny him.

Maher then needed to be at his best to keep a Hoban effort from close range out on the 70-minute mark.

They would hit the front three minutes later though when Benson’s corner was bundled to the net by Connolly from inside the six yard box.

The lead would last just five minutes though as Derry made it 2-2 on 78 minutes.

James Akintunde was allowed far too much space to break down the left before squaring for McGonigle to head home from inside the six yard box.

McGonigle then almost stole it for Derry six minutes from the end when he struck the crossbar from an acute angle on the right with an audacious effort.

The former Crusaders striker broke through again seconds later but he was denied by the crossbar as the sides were forced to settle for a share of the spoils.

Dundalk: Nathan Shepperd; Sam Bone, Mark Connolly, Andy Boyle, Lewis Macari (Mark Hanratty 90); Dan Williams (Keith Ward 82), Robbie Benson, Paul Doyle (Daniel Kelly 60); Steven Bradley, Patrick Hoban, Joe Adams (Greg Sloggett 60).

Derry City: Brian Maher; Cameron McJannet, Eoin Toal, Ciaron Coll; Cameron Dummigan, Ciaron Harkin (Patrick McEleney 62), Will Patching, Daniel Lafferty (James Akintunde 62); Brandon Kavanagh, Jamie McGonigle, Joe Thomson.

Referee: Rob Harvey (Dublin).