Derry boss targets Europa League as City face busy run-in

Derry's Patrick McEleney Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com
Derry's Patrick McEleney Photo Lorcan Doherty / Presseye.com

STUART Greacen will return to action tonight for the first time in eight weeks, but Derry boss, Declan Devine, intends to rotate his squad between now at the end of the season.

ARTHUR DUFFY reports

With Bohemians arriving at the Brandywell this evening, Derry must then travel to Bray on Monday night before setting sail for the Belfield Bowl at UCD for an FAI Cup quarter-final tie next Friday.

So with the “Candy Stripes” facing a total of seven important matches over a period of 23 days, Devine is not prepared to risk further injury and was adamant yesterday that the squad would be rotated between now at the end of the current season.

But with Greacen expected to walk into a central defensive berth for this evening’s fixture against Bohemians, Ryan McBride or Shane McEleney will lose out and the same situation is expected to apply to every department as players return to full fitness.

“Stephen McLaughlin is struggling with tendonitis while Ruaidhri Higgins has a tight groin, so we’ll have to wait and see how they are before kick-off before making a decision.

“But I’m delighted that Patrick McEleney has returned to training on Wednesday and while he’s not guaranteed to be fit for the Bohemians match, we intend to give him all the time he needs to be fit for the match.

“We had been concerned about his injury, but he appears to have made great progress and, fingers crossed, he will be available sooner rather than later,” confirmed the Brandywell boss.

However, striker Rory Patterson encountered a setback in training on Tuesday when he “felt” his hamstring and was immediately pulled out of the session.

“Rory’s recovering from a torn hamstring and it’s very important that he be nursed back to full fitness. During a session this week he felt a twinge and he stopped training and immediately received treatment. He will not be available for the Bohs match or the Bray match, but he’s close to making a return to action,” added Devine.

Kevin Deery has also returned to full training sessions having been given the all-clear by a specialist.

“He’s been working very hard on his fitness and is attempting to get back up to speed. He has got the all-clear from the surgeon who operated on his knee and, hopefully, we will have him back with us over the next two to three weeks.”

Devine pointed to the importance of rotating his squad during the final run-in and with 33 points to play for in the league programme he has not ruled out the possibility of Derry competing in the Europa League next season.

“We can’t bring players back too early or take any chances with injuries given the size of the squad,” continued Devine. “This season quite a few of our young players will have been shocked to learn that they had been included in the team. Quite a few of them didn’t expect the game-time they received and while that’s not always a positive, it does give them experience.”

Shane McEleney and David McDaid return to the squad today having each played 45 minutes for the N. Ireland Under-21 squad in Budapest on Wednesday night with McEleney netting the opening goal in a 3-2 defeat to the Hungarians giving Devine food for thought.

In fact, with Greacen likely to start against Bohemians tonight, Shane McEleney or Ryan McBride will lose out but Devine holds the view that the rest could aid them over the next few weeks.

“We have seven games in 23 days and that’s a very tough programme so we’ve got to manage the players, giving rest to some and game time to others, depending on the opposition,” he maintained.

“While Stewart will start against Bohemians, we can’t afford to rush him back either but it’s great that we are getting numbers back as I’ve always believed that with a full strength squad to choose from, we can match any other team in the league.”

Focusing his attentions on tonight’s opponents, Devine opted to err on the side of caution.

“Bohemians are a decent side. I watched them lose in Drogheda last weekend and, to be fair, I felt they deserved to take something from the game. I believe they will travel to the Brandywell and have a go at us as they did in Drogheda, so we’ll have to be at ourselves and attempt to get back to winning ways at home.

“They have recruited well during the Transfer Window and will be dangerous in set-piece situations so we must always be on our guard.

“They have talented players who are capable of hurting us and in Evan McMillan and Owen Heary they also have good experience within their ranks. I expect them to pass the ball well and I anticipate a free-flowing game which could prove to be very exciting from a neutral’s point of view.”

Devine refused to look beyond tonight’s fixture but it’s clear that he had high hopes of recording back-to-back victories over the next four days and should that be the case, the six points earned would certainly shunt the “Candy Stripes” up the Premier Division table.

“I’m not looking beyond Friday night as the Bohemians match has to be the priority. We have a few decisions to make on the fitness levels of a number of players but I’m happy that, at last, I will have competition for places in the first team.

“Stewart’s return could prove significant as he brings calmness, commitment and great organisational skills to our defensive unit and that’s something we have been missing over recent weeks. He’s a major player for us. He’s always been respected as a leader by those around him and we’re delighted that he’s finally ready to return for the run-in.

“It goes without saying that he will improve our defence as we’ve slipped up in important games against the top sides such as Drogheda, Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers in recent matches at the Brandywell.

“I think it’s now time for us to push on and I certainly haven’t given up the hope of securing a top four finish and with that a place in European football next season,” concluded Devine.