Given the sides’ recent tangles in the Setanta Cup, and Stephen Kenny’s previous incarnation as City manager, a slow, respectful start could have been expected.
However, it was the Hoops who raced out of the blocks and fashioned the first chance of the night in the third minute as Billy Dennehy’s outswinging free-kick was headed goalward by Craig Sives, but Barry Molloy was perfectly positioned to clear off the line.
The league’s top scorer, Gary Twigg, was then culpable three minutes later with his arrowed header from Ronan Finn’s cross narrowly wide of Gerard Doherty’s left-hand upright as Derry struggled to impose themselves.
Within a minute, Twigg’s attacking partner Daryl Kavanagh was guilty of a more glaring miss, failing to get a decisive connection on Gary McCabe’s precise delivery.
A 17th minute Ruaidhri Higgins shot aside, the hosts maintained their dominance and should have opened the scoring in the 19th minute as they were awarded a penalty for Matthew Crossan’s push on McCabe but Gerard Doherty guessed correctly in diverting Dennehy’s spot-kick around the post.
Although still in the ascendancy, Rovers appeared deflated following that miss, allowing Derry gain a foothold with Mark Farren and David McDaid both going close towards the end of the half.
The second half started explosively with the hosts finally taking a deserved lead as Twigg was on hand to volley to the net from six yards after Derry failed to deal with a McCabe corner.
McCabe was becoming an increasingly influential figure as he threatened consistently down the right as the league holders looked to double their lead.
A second goal should have arrived in the 64th minute as Chris Turner released Twigg but the striker shot too close to Doherty who pushed his shot to safety.
Derry’s were reduced to 10 men in the 70th minute as Patrick McEleney was adjudged to have dived, earning the midfielder his second booking after he’d queried the awarding of the penalty in the opening half.
Far from accepting the inevitable, Derry pushed forward and were rewarded when McDaid was on hand to shoot home from four yards after a shot on the turn from Molloy rebounded off the upright to hand City a precious and unlikely draw.
SHAMROCK ROVERS: Jansson; McCormack (Gannon 84), Sives, Gartland, Powell; McCabe (Greene 80), Turner, Finn, Dennehy; Kavanagh (O’Neill 73), Twigg.
DERRY CITY: Doherty; Madden, McCallion, McBride, McCaffrey; P McEleney, Molloy, Higgins, Crossan (McGroary 33, S McEleney 84); McDaid, Farren (Curran 44).
Referee: A Buttimer (Cork).