Derry City were left to rue what might have been after drawing 1-1 with Bulgarian side CSKA Sofia at a raucous Brandywell tonight. Marcos Markynios looked to have won the game outright with his 69th minute free kick but the Foylesiders battled back to level with David Scullion's header nine minutes from time.
The game itself was a cagey affair, with Stephen Kenny's charges mindful of the need to keep a clean sheet and the referee letting little go in the way of challenges. It meant a rather stop-start game in the bright sunshine with neither side able to establish an attacking rhythm in the opening exchanges. Sofia threatened after just four minutes when Pavel Vidanov's effort from the edge of the area flew into the arms of the diving Ger Doherty.
The 3000-strong crowd soon had something to shout about as their side had a penalty shout turned down by the referee in the 22nd minute when Sofia goalkeeper, Zdravko Chavdarov's fist appeared to meet with the head of the incoming Kevin Deery. The ball did fall to Ruaidhri Higgins and for a brief second the midfielder had a sight of an open Sofia goal but his long range effort was deflected wide. The goalkeeper did receive lengthy treatment and was substituted seven minutes later.
Ivan Stoyanov missed a great chance 38 minutes in; Todor Timinov almost capitalising on Peter Hutton's missed tackle in the centre of the park by playing the winger in but his shot was dragged well wide of the post. Another save from the lively Stoyanov just before half time by the 27-year old meant the home team went in at half time with the outcome of the tie still in the balance.
There was a real let off for Derry on 55 minutes when Clive Delaney fumbled his backpass and let in Stoyanov again. The winger scored his team's goal against Derry last week but this time Ger Doherty proved equal to the task and palmed the shot away for a corner, when a simple pass might have let in a team-mate for an easier chance.
The key moment came midway through the half with Markynios' 35-yard free kick was thumped home inside Ger Doherty's right hand post. Derry had actually been playing quite brightly up to that point and while Sofia always looked dangerous on the break, it understandably stunned the players and the fans.
Stephen Kenny's men didn't get their reputation for doing well in Europe from losing concentration and letting their head's drop though, and the Candystripes came forward in waves to keep their unbeaten home record in Europe intact. Their effort was rewarded with Scullion's goal on 81 minutes. Higgins' free kick was headed back across goal by McManus and the substitute was on hand to head home from a yard out.
With the heroics of St. Patrick's Athletic's result earlier still fresh in their minds, Derry put everything into getting a second but the killer blow had already been struck and the death knell sounded when Gareth McGlynn earned himself a straight red for a cynical trip on Orlin Orlinov.
A creditable result for Derry, but a disappointing one nonetheless. Derry's fans may have gone home thinking what might have been but when the dust settles they can be proud of a battling performance against one of the top sides in Europe. The last remaining Irish hope for this year, St. Patrick's Athletic, will find out their fate tomorrow afternoon.
Derry City: Ger Doherty; Ger O'Brien, Peter Hutton, Clive Delaney, Steven Gray; Ruaidhri Higgins, Kevin Deery, Barry Molloy (David Scullion ), Mark Farren (Gareth McGlynn ); Thomas Stewart, Tam. McManus (Aaron Nash ).
Subs bot used: Pat Jennings (gk), Eddie McCallion, Ciaran Martyn, James McClean.
Booked: Gray (27), Molloy (68).
Sent Off: McGlynn (86).
CSKA Sofia: Zdravko Chavdarov (Ivan Karadzhov 30); Pavel Vidanov, Kiril Kotev, Ivan Ivanov, Yordan Minev; Todor Timonov (Rui Miguel 66), Svetoslav Petrov, Kosta Yanev, Yordan Todorov; Marcos Marquinhos (Orlin Orlinov 83), Ivan Stoyanov.
Subs not used: Kostadin Stoyanov, Atanas Zehirov, Dormushali Saidhodzha.
Booked: Marqhinhos (15), I Stoyanov (51), Vidanov (67), Karadzhov (76).
Referee: Jerome Nzolo (Belgium)
Attendance: 5,000 (estimate)
Extratime.ie Man of the Match: I. Stoyanov (CSKA).