DERRY City’s top hitman, Eamon Zayed, echoed the sentiments of his manager, Stephen Kenny, following Saturday night’s deserved EA Sports Cup victory in Cork - “Our total focus is now on the race for the Premier Division Championship.”
reports from Turner’s Cross
Photographs: DONAL FARMER
Delighted with the victory, which was fashioned by a disciplined and controlled second half performance having switched to a 4-3-3 formation, Cork can have no complaints with the end result.
The “Leesiders” struggled during the final third of the game as Derry’s three central midfielders grabbed this fixture by the scruff of the neck.
“We want to win the league,” insisted Zayed afterwards. “That’s always been the focus. It’s great to have won the League Cup and, obviously, I was delighted to score, but it’s the league title we want.
“We have six matches coming up and if we win them all, then we’ll win the league, it’s as simple as that,” added the striker.
Zayed, who kept his cool to stab home the game’s only goal from the penalty spot in the 67th minute, felt Derry deserved to win the game, particularly after his side had upped the tempo and bossed the ball midway through the second half when the introduction of Patrick McEleney saw that change in formation.
“The switch proved the difference,” he maintained. “Cork City are a decent team - a Premier Division team - but I think our change in formation proved to be too much for them in the end.”
Dominant Midfield Trio
With Kevin Deery and Ruaidhri Higgins joined by Gareth McGlynn to form that three-man central midfield trio, Cork were simply over-powered in the end. Indeed, Tommy Dunne’s side appeared to have been overwhelmed as the Derry City train steam-rolled through the second half and Cork had no answer.
That said, the home lot had delighted their massive support of over 4,000, including the interested Roy Keane who was in the stand, during the opening 20 minutes when it was Derry who had struggled to get to grips with the game.
Uncharacteristically, Derry’s early passing proving to be suspect and Cork took advantage.
Livewire striker, Graham Cummins, struck the butt of the Derry City upright with a fine shot, whereas Derry’s Ruiadhri Higgins was also denied by the woodwork before Zayed settled the argument with that second half spotkick.
Try as they did, Cork were denied an equaliser when McGlynn did superbly well to clear the ball off the Derry goal-line as Cork City hearts sank, but when Messrs. Dunne and Co. reflect back on this game, they will openly admit defeat.
Yes, they had their scoring chances - Cummins’ proving to be the best of them - but in the final analysis, the team with the sharper tactical brain and the more mobile players deservedly emerged victorious in the end.
Ebbing and flowing, it was a fascinating fixture. Cork started tentatively, sticking strictly to their game-plan which ensured that goalkeeper, Mark McNulty, was always protected by two banks of four - as Derry’s initial 4-4-1-1 formation struggled to get going.
And, ironically, it took a Cork near-miss for the “Candy Stripes” to suddenly spark to life, that low Cummins’ shot forcing the visitors to wake up from their early slumber.
Deery and Higgins suddenly began to take control of the proceedings with Higgins lashing that effort off the crossbar after Derry had appealled for a first half penalty which was dismissed by referee. Paul Tuite.
But Derry got better after the break and a similar claim for another penalty yielded agreement from the Dublin official in the 66th minute.
Deery’s goal-bound strike was clearly blocked by the outstretched arm of Gavin Kavanagh with McNulty diving full-stretch behind the defender.
Zayed confidently took possession of the ball and he tucked the spotkick home without any fuss, sending McNulty the wrong way in the procress, in front of Derry’s travelling support which numbered in the region of 200 fans.
It was then a case of switching from a 4-3-3 to a 4-5-1 formation when not in possession of the ball, Derry seeking safety in numbers as Cork could only huff and puff when attempting to deal with the situation.
Zayed could have scored more, Cork could and should have been better in set-piece situations, but it was a fair result and yet another League Cup triumph for the Foyleside club - their 10th in all - the first team to record double figures in the history of this particular competition.
Cork City boss, a former league winner with the ‘Candy Stripes’ back in 1997, was gracious in defeat.
He said: “It’s a pity that the winning goal came from a controversial decision, but I felt we performed well in the first half and we had our chances.
“We were at the pace of the game, playing well and doing things right but, in the second half, I thought they took control of the game.
“We looked a bit tired and when the goal came we were beginning to show a bit of fatigue,” admitted Dunne in his assessment of the final.
“Instead of closing the ball down, we dropped off and they played the ball into the danger zone. I thought it was a block and not a ‘hand ball’ and it seemed to be a harsh decision,” he added.
“We were unlucky not to go a goal up in the first half with Graham Cummins’ effort off the post. The thing is when you are on top that’s when you have to score and get a foothold in the game but we didn’t score.
“Derry City are a very good team, they are the top goal scorers in the Premier Division and they were always going to get an opportunity and they took it.
“I was disappointed at the way the goal came about to be honest. It was a harsh decision and it left us chasing the game but the first goal was always going to be crucial.
“Derry had a 10 day rest from football coming into this final and we’ve had to play three games in a week and that’s a bit unjust but I’m not complaining Derry deserved to win it in the end and I’ve no problems with that.
“We played in front of over 4,000 in a Cup Final and up against the likes of Derry City. This is what we are looking for in the future so for us now it’s all about this Friday’s home game with Finn Harps.”
CORK CITY - McNulty; Horgan (Morrisey 84 mins.), Kavanagh, Spillane, Murphy; Turner (Sullivan 75 mins.), Morrissey, Duggan, O’Brien (Escude-Candau 75 mins.); Cummins, O’Neill. Subs not used: McCarthy, Burns, Lordan, Murphy.
DERRY CITY - Doherty; Molloy, McBride, Greacen, Friars; McGlynn, Deery, Higgins, McLaughlin; McDaid (P. McEleney 54 mins.); Zayed.
Subs not used: Ferry, S. McEleney, Harkin, Farren, McMonagle and Henry.
REFEREE - Mr. Paul Tuite (Dublin).