THE SEAMLESS fusion of Derry City’s old guard with Stephen Kenny’s latest bunch of fledglings have given the Dubliner plenty of reason for optimism.
SIMON COLLINS was in
Pics: LORCAN DOHERTY
The Brandywell boss was delighted with his side’s performance against the ‘Lilywhites’ as the RTE entourage rolled into town on Friday night, insisting the rest of the League should stand up and take notice having witnessed glimpses of the true potential of this current crop of players.
Following the return of former Brandywell favourites, Gareth McGlynn and Ruaidhri Higgins plus the addition of Eamon Zayed, the ‘Candy Stripes’ appear to have swiftly gelled into a real force in the top flight and it was the influence of all three and the contributions of the club’s new breed of youngsters which temporarily elevated City into second place, just two points behind leaders, Shamrock Rovers on Friday night.
McGlynn’s fourth goal of the season on the half hour mark and his constant attacking threat may have earned him the ‘man of the match’ accolade but that honour could have been awarded to several contenders in the new red and white jerseys.
James McClean tormented the Dundalk defence throughout; Higgins bossed the midfield while another outstanding, no nonsense defensive performance from Stewart Graecen has saw him quickly emerge as a fans’ favourite.
It was arguably the ‘Candy Stripes’ best and most assured defensive display of the season against one of the more formidable attacking duos in Mark Quigley and Jason Byrne and as they finally registered their first victory and indeed, goals at the Brandywell this season, Kenny believes his squad is finally beginning to take shape.
“There’s still room for improvement but we’re beginning to see a semblance of a team now, and for the first time people have seen the true potential of this team so I was pleased with that,” said Kenny.
“You must remember we were missing key players earlier in the season,” he added. “People are wondering if we can get enough goals so that’s a question that still needs to be answered. Eamon Zayed was anxious to score his first goal at the Brandywell and he managed to get that, so that will do his confidence the world of good.”
After the first series of fixtures, where Derry have played three of the pre-season favourites for the league title, they have proven they can mix it with the best but Kenny was predictably cautious when stressing the importance of keeping their feet firmly on the ground.
“Our performances have been pretty good, I think our points total should be better than what it is, it doesn’t flatter us.
“The danger with us is that because we’ve been on TV against Dundalk and have won 2-0, is that we get a bit of praise now. We could go down to Galway next week and get stuffed.
“People expected a lot from Dundalk and we delivered and now people will be expecting us to win in Galway, but they will be waiting in the long grass like they did when they turned Bohemians over recently.”
The ‘Candy Stripes’ certainly did deliver against a free-scoring Dundalk side with both McGlynn and Zayed netting in a first half were they flexed their attacking muscle at will, deploying a fluid, free-flowing game while the visitors were unable to match their intensity.
Appearing jaded and devoid of ideas, Dundalk found themselves on the backfoot from the start as Ruaidhri Higgins bossed proceedings and the Derry playmaker fashioned the first chance of the game on four minutes when flashing a low drive towards goal but Dundalk keeper, Peter Cherrie turned it round the post.
The home lot were splitting the Dundalk defence open at will and when Zayed slotted the ball through to McGlynn inside the penalty area, the winger shot wrecklessly over the bar.
And Zayed could have opened the scoring himself on 18 minutes when Deery whipped in a cross into the near post but the striker sent his glancing header across goal and harmlessly out of play.
The pressure was mounting on the ‘Lilywhites’ defence and on the half hour mark Derry finally made the breakthrough as Patrick McEleney slotted McGlynn through on goal and his first time shot crept past Cherrie at his near post when the keeper really should have got a stronger hand to the ball.
There was no let-up for the visitors and the ‘Candy Stripes’ doubled their advantage six minutes later when Daniel Lafferty’s cross from the left was guided towards the far post by McClean and Zayed pounced to apply the finish at the far post to register his first goal at the Brandywell.
It was no more than they deserved and they could have put the game out of reach three minutes before the interval when McGlynn’s curling effort forced Cherrie into an acrobatic save.
Derry began the second half in similar vein and for all their industry and invention it was from a miscued cross from McGlynn that they almost added to their tally, the winger’s floated delivery tipped onto the crossbar by the back-pedalling Cherrie.
Dundalk did come strong in the final five minutes, Dean Bennett’s shot parried by Gerard Doherty and Mark Quigley’s curling effort just off target but they failed to get in behind a resolute Derry defence.
And Dundalk boss Ian Foster was at a loss to explain their lack of attacking threat although he felt the club’s hectic schedule, balancing the Setanta Sports Cup and the league played a part in their apparent lethargy.
“I think our play was far too predictable, everything we did was in front of Derry,” lamented Foster. “We didn’t mix things up like we usually do or test them in behind.
“That’s our 11th game in less than eight weeks with a body of around 15 outfield players and I think people have to appreciate that. You’ve got to give us a little bit of credit on that score.
“The two goals Derry scored we defended pretty poorly for both of them. You could pick the bones out of any goal you like but we had plenty of opportunities to do an awful lot better.
“We huffed and puffed in the second half but Derry defended pretty well and you’ve got to credit the opposition in that sense. They sat back and changed it by playing five across the midfield and were comfortable.
“It was one of those nights were we’ve got to take stock but when you come in at half-time 2-0 down it’s always going to be very difficult.”
The Liverpudlian dismissed claims that he may have underestimated Derry, insisting Dundalk arrived fully prepared for a difficult encounter.
“I would underestimate Derry with the players they’ve got, no chance,” he said. “Derry weren’t relegated because they were the worst team in the league, they held onto their best players and by no stretch of the imagination did we think we’d come here for an easy game,” he concluded.
DERRY CITY – 4-4-1-1 - Gerard Doherty: Eddie McCallion, Stewart Greacen, Shane McEleney, Daniel Lafferty; Gareth McGlynn, Ruaidhri Higgins, Kevin Deery, Patrick McEleney (Stephen McLaughlin 72 mins); Eamon Zayed; Subs Not Used – Eugene Ferry, Ruairi Harkin, David McDaid, Thomas McBride, Michael McCrudden.
DUNDALK – 4-4-2 - Cherrie; Simon Madden, Shane Guthrie, Colin Hawkins, Nathan Murphy; Daniel Kearns, Dean Bennett, Stephen McDonnell (Keith Ward 75 mins), Ross Gaynor; Mark Quigley, Jason Byrne; Subs Not Used –Michael Hector, Paul Murphy, Mark Griffin, Johnny Breen.
REFEREE – Mr. D. Hancock (Dublin).