72 is the magic number for Derry City as Ruaidhri Higgins hails club's steady progression

​DERRY CITY has already accumulated the same points tally (54) they finished the 2021 season with but with six games to go Ruaidhri Higgins' troops are hoping 72 is the magic number and enough to wrestle the title from the grasp of Shamrock Rovers.
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​The City boss is confident his team have the 'resilience' and 'mentality' to bounce back from last week's 'gut-wrenching' 1-1 draw against Rovers at Brandywell as he leads them to the Sligo Showgrounds - the scene of his first victory as manager back in April 2021.

That win marked the start of a resurgence which lifted Derry off the foot of the table and towards qualification for European football, remarkably finishing in fourth place with 54 points.

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In 2022 Higgins guided his team to second place, 12 points better off on 66 points, and to a first FAI Cup trophy in 10 years.

They finished 13 points behind Rovers last term but this season they remain hot on their heels, four points adrift going into the final six games of the campaign.

It’s out of their own hands but not beyond the realms of possibility given the unpredictable nature of the league this year.

Higgins' acceptance that Derry quite simply MUST accrue 18 points from the remaining six games has heaped added pressure on tonight's trip to Sligo but the City boss is confident his team can rise to the challenge and he's hopeful a potential 72 points proves sufficient should Rovers slip up along the way.

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"If you look at all the games in isolation," he began. "If you look at them one game at a time, we're capable of beating anybody in this country on our day and we've shown that so we just need to focus on the next one.

Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins is confident his team can finish the season strongly and push Shamrock Rovers all the way.Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins is confident his team can finish the season strongly and push Shamrock Rovers all the way.
Derry City manager Ruaidhri Higgins is confident his team can finish the season strongly and push Shamrock Rovers all the way.

"Listen, if we don't do our business it's irrelevant what happens elsewhere. We just need to focus on ourselves and win our games and that's starting on Friday at a ground which has proven a difficult venue for us over quite a long period of time."

Derry has made rapid progression under his stewardship and Higgins is adamant the Brandywell club is going in the right direction as he looks to bridge a 26 years gap since Felix Healy's 1997 team brought the championship to Foyleside.

"For me, year-on-year it's been brilliant and it's been progressive. We know what we want ultimately at the very end but up until this point the players have been absolutely brilliant.

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"Obviously this year we've had an outstanding European campaign as well which we were so close to going to the next stage. We didn't have that last year so that's a positive.

"We're making the right steps and I think it's clear we're going in the right direction and we're going to be here for a while I feel. We look forward to the upcoming games in the future.

"We can't control anything outside of our own four walls. We need to just win the next game. If we win the next game that'll be the message, to win the next one and so on. Unless we do our business right, the rest doesn't mean anything.

"I think the last two-and-a-half, three months have been encouraging. Obviously it (Rovers result) was a difficult one to take, particularly straight after the game but I'm extremely proud of what the players are putting in and we just need more of the same.

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"Our mentality has been absolutely brilliant over the last while and the players deserve so much credit because we've had so many setbacks in recent times as well that we haven't deserved but we haven't felt sorry for ourselves and have responded brilliantly to anything that's been thrown at us and we just need to do the same again.

"A lot of players are playing really well and we know if we can maintain those standards then we can put more points on the board.

"We talk about it all the time (resilience). We have a brilliant group of people who are proud to play for the club and respect the club and respect the city and what it represents.

"Even the lads who aren't from Derry really buy into it. They feel part of the furniture now and have been welcomed with open arms.

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"I think you can see the respect both ways. Our players respect the effort of our supporters and our supporters are respectful of the efforts of our players.

"If we can continue that relationship, which can be very strong, as I said after the game, I can only see us as a football club going in the one direction.”

While leaders Rovers are expected to take their tally to 61 points with victory over basement side UCD on Friday night, City face a much more difficult task against a Sligo side desperate for points.

The Bit O’Red won 1-0 thanks to an early Will Fitzgerald goal the last time the teams met at the Showgrounds and Derry needed a 94th minute Will Patching to earn a last ditch 2-1 win at Brandywell back in July.

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Both teams have changed significantly since those meetings but bearing in mind Sligo’s perilously position and less than favourable run-in, it’s a tricky encounter for Derry.

And Higgins believes John Russell’s men always raise their game against his team.

"In my view the last few months has probably been our best period of form over the last few years. We don't want that to stop, we want to keep the momentum going.

"Sometimes you can't control the result but you can always control the performance. If we keep performing the way we've been performing we'll win plenty of matches.

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“Sligo seem to get a boost whenever we come around so we;ll be ready for that I'm sure.”

Derry will be without suspended centre half Shane McEleney and his brother, skipper Patrick who has experienced a flare-up of his Achilles issue.