KENNY SHIELS admits he urgently needs to ‘fix the problems’ which have allowed his troubled Derry City side to slump to an alarming run of three successive league defeats - the biggest blip he’s experienced since taking charge.
The Derry boss accused his players of ‘short-changing our supporters’ after a dismal defeat in the North West derby on Friday night and a performance which lacked character, passion and cohesion.
The team is clearly experiencing a lull in confidence which can only be expected after the tragic loss of the late Ryan McBride whose leadership qualities and experience this young side are presently missing.
Interestingly Shiels suggested in an interview on BBC Scotland’s ‘Sportsound’ programme recently that the players and staff almost feel guilty that the show must go on without their inspirational skipper as they try return to some sort of normality.
“Because you’re grieving about something there’s a guilt complex where you don’t want to enjoy yourself too much because you feel as though it’s a betrayal of your captain,” explained Shiels.
But he refuses to allow the turmoil and immeasurable loss of McBride and the grief which has hit the club so hard, to be used as an excuse for his side’s worrying losing streak as he attempts to steer his side through troubled waters. ‘Through adversity we get stronger together,” he said in the same interview.
He’s done it before and no doubt he’ll do it again but Shiels has, so far, struggled to find a successful defensive formula in the past three games and they look particularly vulnerable on the counter.
Before the tragic loss of McBride Derry conceded just twice in the opening four games of the season but since a return to action three weeks ago, the Candy Stripes have shipped eight goals in three games!
But it was the home side’s lack of fight and a ‘flat’ performance which will have worried Shiels most on Friday night as they surrendered to their Co. Donegal neighbours who clinched a first ever ‘away’ league win over the Candy Stripes.
Harps won the key battles on the pitch and set the tone with several crunching tackles on Ronan Curtis, who was clearly targeted, during the opening 15 minutes. Experienced campaigners, Ciaran Coll, Damien McNulty, Killian Cantwell and ‘man of the match’, ex City skipper, Barry Molloy showed a real desire and broke down City’s disjointed, sporadic attacks at every opportunity.
During Derry’s eye-catching start to the campaign, they showed exactly those qualities which saw them rise to second in the table behind the formidable Cork City and they need to rediscover their hunger and fight in time for the trip to Sligo on Saturday.
“Let’s see who’s got the necessary fight, commitment, character to come back and help us win our next game,” challenged Shiels afterwards.
The fact that Derry could conceivably have been 2-0 ahead but for two gilt edged chances which went begging for Curtis and Mikhail Kennedy can’t be overlooked either.
And BJ Banda’s fortuitous deflected strike summed up Derry’s recent spate of bad luck. Although Cork ran amok in Turner’s Cross last week, they also got the rub of the green for their second goal when Nathan Boyle was clearly fouled in the build-up. And it was a last gasp winner conceded from a corner kick which denied City a more than deserved point the previous weekend against Bray Wanderers.
“We lost a game tonight with a deflected goal and we’ll address the problems as a team and as a club,” said Shiels . “It’s not the end of the world. We’re still healthy and fit to go again on Monday.
“We’re disappointed for everyone in the city. It’s the biggest blip we’ve had since I’ve been at the club and we have to turn it around. We need to take the criticism that’s coming our way and we understand that and the plaudits we’ve had. Now it’s time to see how we respond and it’s a good time to test players because we find out about players in defeats.
“It’s up to me to establish the reasons and to fix the problems. That’s what I’m here for and I take full responsibility. We have to pick each other up, It’s a team effort. We must lose together and hopefully in the not too distant future we start winning together.”
Finn Harps meanwhile are fast becoming Shiels’ bogey team as the Ballybofey men have taken seven points from a possible nine in the past three league meetings.
The Derry supremo reckons Harps can no longer hide behind the underdogs tag given the vast experience within their ranks and that experience was evident on Friday night - it won them the match!