Derry City failed to open a gap between themselves and Shamrock Rovers at the top of the Premier Division after they were beaten for the first time away from home, by 10-man Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds.
Will Fitzgerald scored the only goal of this game five minutes in as the Bit O'Red picked up their first win in four, following a game which saw Rovers finish without defender John Mahon who was sent off in the second half.
The result sees Rovers go back above Drogheda into seventh, while the Candystripes remain just one point clear of the Hoops at the summit.
Lacking a spark in recent weeks and without a win since 22 April against basement side UCD, Rovers boss John Russell was relieved to be able to include the division’s top scorer Max Mata in his starting team for the first time in three games.
The New Zealander’s recent absence hard felt, as Sligo failed to find the net in as many games.
While midfielder David Cawley was Rovers’ second change from their defeat to Cork at Turner’s Cross eight nights previous, the Ballina native’s first start of the season.
Undefeated on the road this term and with just one loss in their last five, City boss Ruaidhri Higgins made no less than five changes from the Foylesiders’ dominant win over UCD last week.
Sadou Diallo, Shane McEleney, Ryan Graydon, Oliver John O’Neill and Adam O’Reilly all returning.
While the large cohort of travelling Derry supporters can only have been buoyed by the inclusion in the match squad of both Mark Connolly and Patrick McEleney after lengthy spells on the physio table.
In search of his 50th win as Derry boss on the ground he claimed his first, back in April 2021, City boss Higgins saw his in-form side fall behind early on during a frustrating opening half for the FAI Cup holders.
Unable to properly clear Frank Liivak’s lofted cross from the end line, City could only clear the danger as far as their former player Fitzgerald, whose effort at goal took a touch off Cameron McJannet on the way past Brian Maher. Fitzgerald netting for the first time this season and for the fourth time in his Rovers career.
Derry shaded the remainder of this half, with the visitors responsible for the lions’ share of possession. Sligo, who lost defender Nando Pijnaker to injury on 33 minutes, were however able to block off all available avenues as Derry provided plenty of bark without the bite.
Cameron Dummigan sliced his volley from the edge of the area well wide of Luke McNicholas’ nets as the Brandywell side continued to circle the Sligo wagon without success.
O’Reilly did open things up four minutes from the break. But he seemed to get caught in two minds as his chip to the back post from the angle was diverted to safety after O’Reilly skipped past Greg Bolger at the end line.
Careless play from Cawley gifted Derry opportunities early in the second period. Substitute Cian Kavanagh and Jordan McEneff both going close after a duo of loose passes from Cawley conceded play to the visitors twice in quick succession.
City midfielder Diallo may have been fortunate to stay on the pitch after a poor challenge on Bolger resulted only in a yellow on 64 minutes.
Mahon wasn’t as fortunate when he was dismissed with fifteen to go having received his second yellow after referee Paul McLaughlin decided the Collooney man had dragged Ryan Graydon to the floor on the half-way line.
Backs to the wall and without a recognised centre half of the pitch, Sligo had to rely on goalkeeper McNicholas late on. The Irish underage international producing a superb two-handed save at full stretch with three minutes to go as he pushed aside Ben Doherty’s rocket from 35 yards.
Sligo Rovers: Luke McNicholas; Niall Morahan, John Mahon, Nando Pijnaker (Johan Brannefalk 33), Reece Hutchinson; David Cawley, Greg Bolger (Lukas Browning 68); Will Fitzgerald, Frank Liivak; Kailin Barlow (Danny Lafferty 77), Max Mata.
Derry City: Brian Maher; Cameron Dummigan (Brandon Kavanagh 72), Cameron McJannet, Shane McEleney, Ben Doherty; Sadou Diallo (Ronan Boyce 72), Adam O’Reilly (Patrick McEleney 65); Ryan Graydon, Michael Duffy; Jordan McEneff (Will Patching 65); Oliver John O’Neill (Cian Kavanagh HT).
Referee: Paul McLaughlin