There was little incident of note in a cagey opening quarter with the hosts looking to threaten down their right flank through Owen Heary and Keith Buckley, while Derry struggled to impose themselves, offering little support to lone striker Eamon Zayed.
Aidan Downes, who impressed in recent matches when introduced from the bench, was handed a starting berth in attack but his contribution was minimal early on as Bohemians failed to threaten a solid-looking City rearguard.
The visitors gradually began to exert themselves and could have opened the scoring in the 24th minute when Zayed connected with a Stephen McLaughlin left-wing cross but the league’s top scorer headed wastefully over the bar from eight yards.
Within a minute, McEleney showed nimble footwork to work a shooting chance from the edge of the box but his left-foot effort lacked sufficient power to unduly trouble Barry Murphy in the hosts’ goals.
Derry failed to build on this brief period of supremacy and it was the hosts who threatened to break the deadlock five minutes before the break but Downes saw his cross-shot from 12 yards cleared to safety by Barry Molloy as the half ended in defensive stalemate.
There was almost a dramatic start to the second half as Ruaidhri Higgins placed McLaughlin free in the inside-left channel but the winger’s well-struck shot from 14 yards rebounded off the near post and out for a goal kick.
The soporific nature of the first half was soon forgotten as Bohemians attacked with greater purpose and in the 52nd minute Heary showed great skill in chesting a Brennan cross inside the box but his subsequent volley flew narrowly over Gerard Doherty’s crossbar.
Zayed spurned a glorious opportunity two minutes later as he peeled off Aidan Price but his volleyed effort from Daniel Lafferty’s precise delivery flashed harmlessly wide of Murphy’s left-hand post.
In the 65th minute, Price looked to have handed his side the lead when connecting powerfully with Brennan’s corner but the centre-half was harshly penalised for pushing and Bohs were left to rue that decision as Derry broke the deadlock three minutes later.
It followed a Kevin Deery corner that Zayed flicked towards goal and despite Murphy parrying the initial effort, McEleney improvised superbly to back-heel to the net from six yards for that priceless opening goal.
Derry could have added to that tally through Daniel Lafferty and substitute David McDaid and they were fortunate that Christopher Forrester’s 89th-minute drive flew just wide as the visitors held on with a fair degree of desperation at the death.
Murphy; Heary, Burns (Forrester 80), Price, Cahill; Buckley (Hurley 46), Cronin, O’Brien, Brennan; Fagan (Flood 58), Downes.
Doherty; McCallion, Greacen, S McEleney, Lafferty; P McEleney, Deery, Molloy, Higgins (Harkin 90), McLaughlin; Zayed (McDaid 79).
Neil Doyle (Dublin).