Drogheda United denied Derry City three points that would have closed the gap on the top two of the Premier Division as another draw struck a blow to Ruaidhri Higgins' team's title aspirations.

United and Derry have played four games in the league now and three of them have ended 1-1, earmarking Drogheda as a side City find it very troublesome to play against.

That much is clear given United’s record against the league’s leading lights this term. They’ve beaten Dundalk twice and earned four points from Shamrock Rovers.

James Akintunde handed the Candystripes a first-half lead but Dayle Rooney’s sublime free-kick earned the Drogs a share of the spoils. It was no less than they deserved as they took the game to Derry in the second half. A win was within their grasp.

Ruaidhri Higgins’ side were boosted prior to kick-off, announcing the sign of Jordan McEneff. The midfielder arrives upon the expiry of his contract at Arsenal and he had spent the first half of the season on loan at Shelbourne.

The 21-year-old follows in the footsteps of elder brother Aaron, now of A-League outfit Perth Glory, in turning out for their hometown club. McEneff was not signed in time to face Drogheda but Higgins felt the deal, which runs until the end of the season, suits both parties.

Derry arrived in Drogheda having failed to win either of their last two visits, including a defeat late last season. Twice this term, they had taken the lead only to see United peg them back and earn a point. Now, that’s three.

With champions Rovers and Dundalk set to resume rivalries on Sunday, the visit to county Louth presented third-place Derry with an opportunity to further implant themselves into the tussle at the top.

Unbeaten in eight domestically, their upturn in form of late leaves them poised for a late season assault – especially as Rovers have a European campaign to contend with.

Higgins made two changes to the XI from last week’s scoreless draw against them. Akintunde and Michael Duffy started in attack in a freshening up of the forward line. A muscle injury deprived United of their two-goal hero from last week Ryan Brennan. Darragh Nugent replaced him.

The visitors dominated the first half and led deservingly. New club captain Patrick McEleney shot wide and Will Patching was denied by Colin McCabe.

Akintunde hit his fifth goal in five games when Cameron Dummigan’s cross found the striker in the area.

He spun Keith Cowan and curled a low shot into the far bottom corner to fully justify his selection ahead of 11-goal top scorer Jamie McGonigle.

Remarkably, Drogheda have now failed to score in the first half in 19 of their 28 matches in the league this season. Being slow starters isn’t amounting to much of a hindrance for them. Credit should go to Doherty too, of course.

Rooney’s equaliser arrived on 52 minutes. Darragh Markey was fouled by Mark Connolly. Rooney produced a brilliant free-kick which nestled in the top corner. Brian Maher was at full stretch but, in truth, nowhere near.

The midfielder then struck the bar after Evan Weir’s shot was saved.

At the other end, Ryan Graydon shot tamely wide when through and Weir made a dramatic goal line clearance as Derry probed, but it never felt like a winner was coming their way.

Drogheda United: Colin McCabe; Georgie Poynton, Andrew Quinn, Keith Cowan, Evan Weir; Gary Deegan, Darragh Nugent; Dylan Grimes (Adam Foley, 84), Darragh Markey, Dayle Rooney; Dean Williams.

Derry City: Brian Maher; Cameron Dummigan, Mark Connolly, Cameron McJannet, Ciaran Coll; Sadou Diallo, Will Patching, Patrick McEleney (Declan Glass, 81); Ryan Graydon, James Akintunde (Jamie McGonigle, 76), Michael Duffy (Brandon Kavanagh, 76).

Referee: Damien MacGraith