There was late drama at Showgrounds on Monday night as Grange’s Seamas Keogh struck in injury time to record a first win in six games for Sligo Rovers in a 2-1 win over Derry City – Rovers’ first game since the departure of manager Liam Buckley.
Caretaker manager John Russell was beaming with full-time pride after watching his side put in one of their best performances of the entire season, seeing a Derry City side who fell behind Shamrock Rovers, despite a good start of the season.
Rovers took the lead in the first half through Garry Buckley, with Jamie McGonigle leveling the score seconds before half-time.
It looked like it was going to end with a point apiece for both teams, but substitute Keogh passed Brian Maher to earn all three points on an incredible night for the Bit O’Red.
There was a somber mood around The Showgrounds before kick-off, due to the departure of popular Liam Buckley.
But, the show must go on. And John Russell was in charge of a side looking for a third home win of the season, and a first in six games.
He made two changes to the side which lost 2-1 to Bohemian on Friday night – Paddy Kirk and Adam McDonnell entered the starting XI with David Cawley and Robbie McCourt out through injury.
Ruaidhri Higgins’ Derry City had lost two and drawn in their previous four games, and came to The Showgrounds desperate to change their form.
Higgins also made two changes after Friday night’s loss to Dundalk – Ciaran Coll and Matty Smith fell to the bench with James Akintunde and Danny Lafferty coming on.
It was an even start to the game, with neither side willing to take too many risks at this stage of the game.
With 20 minutes on the clock, the impasse was unblocked. Adam McDonnell’s corner came to Buckley who forced it into the net at the corner to put Rovers ahead.
Brian Maher in Derry’s goal saved well from Karl O’Sullivan’s effort in the 24th minute, before Derry lost the lead through Joe Thomson, but clever goalkeeper Ed McGinty kept Derry out to equalize.
Maher had to be vigilant to save Karl O’Sullivan’s effort and recover the loose ball before Adam McDonnell could get there.
McGinty saved well with a header from close range, before Derry leveled the score.
Seconds from halftime, Buckley’s clearance attempt hit team-mate Colm Horgan, the ball bouncing well for league leading scorer McGonigle, who passed McGinty perfectly to make it 1-1.
Credit to Rovers, their heads never fell after the equalizer was conceded and they worked hard in the second half to try and force another goal.
Brian Maher saved well several times to deny McDonnell as Rovers enjoyed good possession spells, with Colm Horgan’s effort also widely rumored.
A dangerous free-kick from Will Patching was held well by McGinty, before McGonigle almost made it 2-1 as he entered behind the Rovers defence, but his effort was wide of the target.
This match was heading for a 1-1 draw, but substitute Seamas Keogh had other plans.
After digging space in the box to keep the shot away, Keogh’s effort was saved by Maher, before The Showgrounds exploded moments later.
Three minutes into injury time, Keogh somehow found space in a crowded box and fired his powerful effort from close range into the back of the net to claim the victory in the death.
What followed were emotional scenes, especially for Keogh who hasn’t seen much playing time his season.
It’s the kind of win that will have brought everyone together – on and off the pitch as Rovers look to get through a tough time.
Bit O’Red, under caretaker manager John Russell, travel to Dublin again this Friday to take on UCD in the final match before the mid-season break.
Sligo Rovers: Ed McGinty; Colm Horgan, Shane Blaney, Garry Buckley (Nando Pijnaker 70), Paddy Kirk; Niall Morahan (Seamas Keogh 86), Greg Bolger; Will Fitzgerald, Adam McDonnell, Karl O’Sullivan (Cillian Heaney 82); Aidan Keena.
City of Derry: Brian Maher; Eoin Toal, Shane McEleney (Ciaran Coll 78), Cameron McJannet; Ronan Boyce, Danny Lafferty (Matty Smith 60); Cameron Dummigan (Brandon Kavanagh 26), Will Patching, Joe Thomson; James Akintunde, Jamie McGonigle.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.