MERVUE MANAGER, Tom French, believes Derry City have set the benchmark for Airtricity First Division sides who may harbour aspirations of winning the league title after watching his side out-classed by a rampant 'Candy Stripes' in Friday night's encounter at Brandywell.
Openly admitting that his side is anticipating yet another relegation battle in their second season in senior football, the Dubliner was effusive in his admiration for the Brandywell club, stating that he believed Stephen Kenny's troops were the best team they had faced so far this season.
High praise, indeed, when one takes into account that the Galway men have just emerged from a series of fixtures against three of the early season title hopefuls - Cork City, Waterford and now the 'Candy Stripes' over the past three weeks.
However, Brandywell boss, Kenny will certainly not be getting carried away with his side's third consecutive league victory bearing in mind that it was against - and it must be said - an extremely limited outfit that will no doubt be fighting for their First Division survival on the evidence of Friday night's display.
That said, the Galwegians did provide no shortage of resistance having been gifted a way back into the game on the half hour mark with Enda Curran's penalty conversion after Derry defender, Mark Scoltock, brought down substitute, Dan Cunningham after Ruairi Harkin and James McClean had put the home lot comfortably 2-0 ahead after just 23 minutes.
The gulf in class between the two sides eventually told as Derry's impressive young guns, McClean and Patrick McEleney, added to their promising start to the season with two second half strikes to ease any pressure.
Despite the final outcome and the manner of the defeat, French held the opinion that his side will continue to improve and will learn the lessons from Friday night's demoralising defeat.
"I think, in fairness, Derry are the best team we've played this season so far and Friday's defeat was a lesson for us to be honest," said the Dubliner
"After the first 20 minutes they were 2-0 up and I think we were a bit shell-shocked at that. Obviously we changed it straight away (bringing on Dan Cunningham) and we got ourselves back into it.
"We could have been dead and buried, but once we got ourselves back into it at the start of the second half we looked okay. But the third goal absolutely killed us. Our defender made a mistake, he should have just cleared his lines and after Derry just ran riot.
"We've been playing okay this season, as you seen on Friday night, we were not a bad side in patches so if we can extend those little patches we should be fine," he claimed.
"We've had three tough games against the three top teams and we've scored five goals but we've conceded something like 11 which is not on and we've got to do something about that.
"But you have to admire Derry, they're a very good side and if we can get anywhere near that level then we'll be doing okay. That's a game we would have loved to get something out of, but we were defeated by a much better team.
"The game was never going to decide the season for us, it's not going decide the relegation it's the other teams we've got to get the points from.
"Inexperience cost us in the end, the lads have to be switched on for 90 minutes. Against good teams like Derry, Cork and Waterford, you're going to get punished and that's what happened us on Friday night," he concluded.
Punished during early stages
The 'Tribesmen' were certainly punished in a frantic opening to the game as the Brandywell support was treated to a feast of attacking play.
Stephen Kenny, having deployed an experimental and daring offensive 4-2-3-1 formation, with Harkin positioned in an advanced role just behind striker, David McDaid and wingers McClean and McEleney supporting at every opportunity from either flank. And that formation had a devastating effect as the 'Candy Stripes' raced into that 2-0 lead.
Harkin netted his second goal of the season after just 11 minutes and the lively James McClean doubled that advantage shortly afterwards as Derry appeared to be strolling to their second home win on the trot.
However, complacency once again seemed to creep in as the visitors made the most of a clumsy tackle by Scoltock in one of their few attacks on goal, and Curran slotted the ball under the arms of Doherty from the spot.
While that goal may have gave Tom French's men a glimmer of hope, Derry's class eventually shone through in the second half and further goals from McClean and the impressive McEleney eventually put an end to the challenge from the visitors.
With the return of influential skipper, Kevin Deery, and the fact that Mervue had recorded just a single point from their opening five fixtures, the Brandywell crowd had expected a comfortable victory.
However, Mervue almost stunned the home support with just four minutes on the clock, when Curran was sent scampering clear but, referee, Rob Rogers booked the striker for diving over the anticipated challenge of Derry keeper, Gerard Doherty.
Derry's adventurous formation reaped handsome dividends seven minutes later when midfielder, Harkin made the most of a long punt towards goal.
Eddie McCallion launched the ball over the top of the Mervue defence and when Harkin flicked into the path of McClean, the winger's powerful effort was parried by goalkeeper, Ger Hanley, before Harkin was first to react with the rebound, poking the ball into the net.
The in-form Derry winger, McClean then capitalised on the increasing pressure when he cleverly flicked the ball into the back of the net on 23 minutes following fantastic work on the right flank by McEleney to double his side's lead.
And the Creggan man must have thought he added a third two minutes later when he got onto the end of a terrific cross from Deery to power his header past the keeper, but the linesman correctly ruled the effort out for offside.
At this stage the attendance were anticipating a comprehensive victory but Mervue's early substitution proved influential. Substitute, Cunningham found himself in space inside the Derry penalty area during his first involvement in the game and as he prepared himself to bear down on goal, Scoltock brought him down with a reckless challenge and the referee had no hesitation when pointing to the spot.
Curran then coolly dispatched the spot-kick into the bottom corner despite the best efforts of Doherty and Mervue suddenly had grabbed an early life-line.
That goal certainly provided the visitors with renewed confidence and they pressed forward in search of an equaliser.
In the second half, however, Derry began to exert relentless pressure and while Mervue's Republic of Ireland U19 keeper, Hanley, produced excellent saves from Emmet Friars, David McDaid and Barry Molly, he was unable to prevent McEleney's strike into the bottom corner on 71 minutes following a defensive blunder.
Mervue defender, Noel Varley failed to clear from inside his own six yard area and when the ball ricocheted off Eric Browne it dropped kindly to McEleney who volleyed into the bottom corner.
The inexperienced Mervue were clearly shaken and just three minutes later McClean cut inside from the left and his deflected right foot shot somehow found its way into the net to secure a convincing win.
Having secured ten points from a possible 15, the Brandywell boss was delighted with the result, however, he warned his side will have to guard against complacency going into their next league fixtures away to Wexford Youths before entertaining high flying Shelbourne at Brandywell.
"It was an excellent performance from us," smiled the Dubliner. "We played some very good football at times and there was some terrific counter-attacking play. We were 2-0 up and got a bit comfortable and then we got punished with the penalty and we've no complaints about that – it was a definite penalty.
"But when they scored it became a battle. Of course, we're annoyed coming in at half-time when we should have been comfortable at the break but we're not at 2-1.
"With Rory Gaffney's long throw-ins, they were always dangerous. He throws it into the back post every time. We still had plenty of chances and their keeper made a few terrific saves from Emmet Friars, David McDaid and James McClean.
"When we got the third goal it relaxed us and then we managed to play a bit better and get a fourth. It was a very good comprehensive win, I thought we could have got more but I'm delighted with the win, I'm absolutely thrilled.
"Next week against Wexford's going to be tricky, however. They drew with Shelbourne and they're a much better team than Mervue and that will be a tough game," he concluded.
DERRY CITY – 4-2-3-1- Gerard Doherty; Eddie McCallion, Mark McChrystal, Mark Scoltock, Emmet Friars; Patrick McEleney (Darren Cassidy, 88 mins), Barry Molloy, Kevin Deery (Shane McEleney, 76 mins); Ruairi Harkin, James McClean; David McDaid (Vincent Sweeney, 83 mins); Subs Not Used –Adam Clarke, Eugene Ferry.
MERVUE UNITED – 4-4-2- Ger Hanley, Noel Varley (Dan Cunningham 33 mins), Martin Conneely, (Ollie Keogh, 69 mins), Eric Browne, Darren Young; Rory Gaffney, Mike Tierney, Kevin Crehan, Mark Ludden; Evan Connolly, Enda Curran (Alex Lee, 62 ,mins); Subs Not Used – Kevin Barrett, Kenny Farrell.
REFEREE – Mr. Rob Rogers (Dublin).