Matty Smith sees red as Derry City’s UEFA Conference League hopes suffer a blow

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Returning to European competition for the first time in two years, there was a carnival atmosphere at the full Foyleside venue ahead of kick-off.

Ruaidhri Higgins’ protege were outsiders to the Latvians whose European pedigree has grown in recent seasons, twice coming close to a first-ever appearance in the group stage of European competition.

However, there was real trust among the home support and there was little between the sides in a wary opener.

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Matty Smith is shown a straight red after a clash with Riga’s Ngonda in the second half of the Europa Conference League tie at Brandywell. Photo by Kevin Moore.

Riga braced themselves for the task and four minutes before the half-time break took the lead when Oleksandr Fillippov found Brazil winger Gabriel Ramos flying into the net.

Within two minutes at the start of the second half, Derry’s hopes of advancing to the second round suffered a blow.

Smith received a direct red card for raising his hand in Glody Ngonda’s face in the 67th minute. It was an unnecessary altercation with the Congolese full-back and the Latvians made them pay the ultimate price moments later as Douglas Aurelio passed Shane McEleney before bringing it back to Filippov who ended up with a simple tap- in five meters.

Derry had chances from set pieces but couldn’t find a way past the Riga defense who will have their eye on a second-round draw against winners MFK Ruzomberok (Slovakia) and FK Kauno Zalagiris (Lithuania), with the Slovaks also taking a 2-0 second leg lead in the tie.

Riga’s Thanos Petsos clears the ball as Patrick McEleney tries to charge it in during the first half.

The Foylesiders received a major boost before kick-off with Ronan Boyce and Cameron Dummigan declared fit following recent injury layoffs.

The two teams were sizing each other up in a wary opener and seven minutes passed before the visitors registered the first shot on goal when Aurelio Douglas fired safely over the bar from 25 yards out.

Derry carved out his first opener of the game in the 14th minute when Patrick McEleney won the ball from Yurii Vakulki in midfield and when McGonigle recovered the loose ball he found the snitch Joe Thomson with a square pass but the Scot dragged his shot wide.

Toal headed for Davis Oss from Patching’s floating cross to the back post moments later.

Will Patching under pressure against Riga FC in the UEFA Europa Conference League first qualifying round tonight at Brandywell. Photographs by Kevin Moore.

The Riga keeper was called into action again in the 18th minute when he saved Patching’s curling free-kick from a promising position to the right of the penalty area in the 18th minute.

Finland winger Mikael Soisalo did well to pass Patrick McEleney in Derry’s penalty area but his low cross into the penalty area was clipped by Brian Maher’s outstretched leg before Patching cleared the danger away.

The Latvians were using their pace on the wings to great effect with former Dundalk full-back Jurkovskis and Soisalo causing problems down the right.

It was the latter who opened up Derry’s defense with a clever reduction towards the penalty spot but striker Fillippov missed his shot and Maher saved.

McGonigle cut inside on his right foot as Derry broke on pace, but the City striker’s low shot to the far post was collected cleanly by Oss on the half-hour mark.

Patching had another chance from a free-kick, this time a bit closer to Riga’s goal. It was a best effort from the Englishman who bent his effort on the wall but it didn’t hinder the keeper.

Derry found himself behind four minutes before the break when Fillippov chased a long ball past Shane McEleney before latching his cross into the penalty area where Ramos’ effort on the half-volley bounced into the corner of the net .

It was a bad goal to concede and it almost got worse for the home side moments later when Filippov tried to find the far corner of the net with a decent shot from 20 yards out but sailed wide.

The Latvians took their narrow lead in the interval and they were slightly better of the two teams with Derry fleetingly threatening from set pieces.

Boyce, who passed a late fitness test, picked up the injury in the 52nd minute and was replaced by debutant Ryan Graydon who joined from Longford Town last weekend.

Patching nearly found the target with another free-kick from the corner of the box, but it was another wasted opportunity for the home field.

Derry was starting to go through the gears and Riga was ready to sit up and soak up the pressure.

There was a big protest for the handball when McGonigle’s strike hit substitute Ilja Korotkovs’ outstretched hand, but there was little the Latvian could do to get out of the way and the referee waved on.

Within two minutes, Derry found themselves in trouble and in danger of withdrawing from the competition.

In the 67th minute, referee Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson harshly gave City striker Smith his marching orders after the Scot found himself in an unnecessary confrontation with Glody Ngonda who was shown a yellow card for his troubles.

It didn’t take long for Riga to take advantage but the defense was poor once again as Aurelio got past Shane McEleney before cutting it to Filippov who was left with a simple tap-in at five meters.

Patching had another chance from a well-placed free-kick but again sent his effort straight into the hands of the Riga keeper.

With the extra man Riga controlled the ball for the final 10 minutes but a misplaced pass from Korotkovs fell straight into the feet of Graydon who raced towards goal before firing wide of the net in the 88th minute.

There were five minutes of added time announced but both teams would have just blown it away.

It could have been worse for City with the last action of the first leg as Ukrainian substitute Vladlen Yurchenko clipped the crossbar with a well-executed shot just inside the box. Jurkovskis fired the rebound over the crossbar, but it didn’t matter as Riga took a giant step towards the second round.

Derry has everything to do in the second leg in Riga next week and will kick himself for two avoidable goals.

Derry City: Maher: Boyce (Graydon 52), Toal, McEleney; Smith, Dummigan, McEleney, Patching, McJannet; Thompson; McGonigle (Akintunde 74); Unused Subs – Gartside, Coll, Kavanagh, Lafferty, McLaughlin, Malone, Porter.

Riga: Purins; Jurkovskis, Berqkvist, Cernomordijs (Korotkovs 57), Ngonda; Solsalo (Yurchenko 76), Vakulko, Petsos, Ramos; Aurelio (Peterson 80), Filippov; Unused submarines – Oss, Ozols, Kurakins, Rugins, Musah, Tutu.

Referee: Vilhjalmur Thorarinsson (Iceland)


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