DERRY City may have to plan without two of their more influential players, but they will face a major test of their character against title challengers, St. Pat’s Athletic, in the Brandywell tonight. (Kick-off: 7.45 p.m.)
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And having to plan without both his first choice wingers in James McClean (now a Sunderland player) and Gareth McGlynn (injured knee), Stephen Kenny has much to think about during what is now a crucial stage of the 2011 Airtricity League season.
Commenting after his first training session yesterday, James felt he did well in the session and was welcomed by the entire first team squad.
“I think I did okay, I felt good and didn’t feel out of place and I enjoyed it. I’m not travelling with the first team to Liverpool on Saturday - I didn’t expect to be - so I’ve managed to make arrangements to get home to the Brandywell to watch the St. Pat’s match and then return to Sunderland on Saturday!” he added.
Delighted to see McClean secure a three years full-time contract in the Barclay’s Premiership - the first Derry player to transfer directly to the top flight of British football - Kenny continues to point to the spirit and camaraderie which remains within his first team squad.
McClean’s absence is significant, but McGlynn’s cartilage injury, sustained in the Dublin Super Cup against Celtic at the Aviva Stadium, compounds the issue.
“With James leaving and Gareth injured and possibly out for six weeks, we have a few problems as we prepare to face three of the top teams. It’s a major blow for us, but it’s now all about how we respond to those difficulties,” insisted the Dubliner.
“This group of players have worked so hard to get where they are. At the start of the season, people suggested that Premier Division consolidation would be a respectable effort this year, but given that we are currently sharing the leadership of the table with Sligo and Shamrock Rovers, people are now talking about winning leagues,” noted Kenny.
“Yes, we’ve lost two influential players so we must show a real sense of team spirit collectively and get on with it. We could have players forced to play out of position, or maybe even opt to change our shape, but we must continue to believe in ourselves, work particularly hard and attempt to secure a victory which would be a huge boost for us,” added the Brandywell boss.
“I’ll be looking to the leaders in the team to again come to the fore. Players such as Stewart Greacen who has been immense for us this season having commanded our defence so well. Our back five have conceded three goals at home in 12 games - and one of them was a dubious penalty - so it’s important that Stewart continues to inspire the players around him.
“Overall, our back five have been excellent. Our home grown players have excelled in Stewart’s company. They’ve learned from his leadership and aggression and his aerial ability has been so vital this year, he’s been crucial. He’s a very big player and he’s been a superb signing and we certainly need him to continue as we enter the business end of the campaign.”
Kenny also signalled out Stephen McLaughlin who is now expected to secure a sustained run in the starting XI. “Interestingly, James McClean was suspended for our recent trip to Inichcore and he produced a magnificent performance that night, scoring a superb goal in the 1-1 result.
“He was our best player that night and he has taken confidence from that particular display. Now that he could have a run in the first team starting line-up, it’s very important and he continues to believe in himself and enjoy his football.”
And while McLaughlin is expected to win the left-sided midfield role, David McDaid, Ruairi Harkin and Michael McCrudden are now expected to compete for the McGlynn vacancy on the right flank.
With St. Pat’s having experienced off-the-field problems in relation to bonus payments to their playing staff following what was a successful run in the Europa League qualifying games, they possess two quality front men in Danny North and Daryl Kavanagh, who have made a significant impression during the second half of the season.