KENNY SHIELS has seemingly transformed Derry City into a force to be reckoned with at Fortress Brandywell thanks to a battling fifth home win of the season on Friday night.
It was far from a vintage performance from the ‘Candy Stripes’ - a far cry from the 3-0 romp over Shamrock Rovers in their last league match on Foyleside - but it was enough to see off a dogged Bohemians outfit hell-bent on turning around a poor run of form.
It was also further evidence of this team’s ability to grind out results as they held on to the 14th minute lead the prolific Rory Patterson handed them to take their points tally to a hugely impressive 20 points after just nine games.
It’s a total which has surprised even Sheils who argues he would have been happy with 12 or even 14 at this stage, having played the league’s top sides with the exception of St Pat’s.
The Derry boss has clearly instilled a confidence which was lacking last season, a winning mentality and the ability to close out matches - a feature that’s even more impressive given there were two teenagers making up half of the back four.
Shiels was charged with turning around a woeful home record and the ‘Candy Stripes’ have already registered the same amount of home wins in the league (four) that they managed in the entire league campaign last season.
Shiels’ arrival and the new found character and confidence from the players has galvanised the Brandywell support, who have come back in their droves, and laid the foundations for a promising campaign as we approach the end of the first third of the season.
And with work due to start at the Lone Moor Road venue next July and a temporary move to Maginn Park planned, the powers that be at Derry City could be forgiven for wishing for a delay on the digging up of the pitch.
Visiting manager, Keith Long, who took six points from Bohs’ two visits to Brandywell last season, has noticed a vast improvement in Derry’s form.
“We came up here last year and won twice but we were quite lucky on a couple of occasions,” said Long. “Derry have some good players and a good manager who has them well organised and playing for each other.
Derry has always been a fortress and Kenny has obviously given the players the confidence that they maybe lacked last year.Keith Long
“They’re also missing a few key players. Derry has always been a fortress and Kenny has obviously given the players the confidence that they, maybe, lacked last year.”
Winning at home isn’t something Barry McNamee has been overly familiar with during his time at the club, so he’s enjoying the feel good factor on Foyleside at present.
“We didn’t play well but we got the three points,” said the midfielder. “We know if we work hard it’s half the battle. If you match teams with your workrate, then, hopefully, your better players can do the business.
“Although we didn’t play well, the game never really got started. It was long ball after long ball and neither team had a pattern of play. But we got the goal early on and closed it out from there.”
With another home match next week against Sligo Rovers, who Derry defeated 2-0 in the EA Sports Cup last Monday, McNamee is confident they can continue their rich vein of form.
“We’ve won every home game so far so there’s no reason why that can’t continue next week,” said the Ramelton man. “It’s the first time since I’ve been here that it’s finally becoming a hard place to come to for opposition sides.
“In the last couple of years, our home form was terrible and we were actually better on the road. We’re probably more solid now and it helps that we’re not giving any silly goals away. We have to keep winning here and whatever we get on the road is a bonus.”
Derry boss Shiels is pleased with his side’s progress so far - particularly his fifth clean sheet of the season despite missing Aaron Barry and Dean Jarvis from his regular back four.
“We’ve got a good characteristic in the team where we find a way to win,” said the Derry boss. “We’ve come from behind in a few games this season and haven’t conceded many at Brandywell.
“We have three or four clean sheets (at home) and conceded just one goal which is a big positive for us.”
Chances were few and far between on the night despite the best efforts of the lively Nathan Boyle in the first half who kept his place in the starting line-up after his two goal salvo midweek.
Patterson did what he does best on 14 minutes by reacting quickly to find the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season after McNamee lost his footing when one-on-one with Bohs keeper, Dean Delany.
Bohs striker Kurtis Byrne really should have equalised on the half hour mark when he cushioned the ball on his chest, got in behind the Derry defence but, somehow, failed to connect from close range and the Gypsies’ best chance of the game was lost. Bohs improved in the second half as Derry visibly tired but, for all their intent and a few nervous moments from set-pieces, the home defence stood firm to grind out another excellent result to extend the unbeaten run to nine games and a seventh win in nine matches. Shiels was delighted with the result but felt his side was running on empty as the three games in six days began to take its toll.
“I thought 2-0 would have been fair going in at the break and it would have given us a bit more leverage,” said the Derry boss.
“The first 10 or 15 minutes of the second half, we defended well and, then, it was nip and tuck and we closed it out.
““I wanted to get the first goal, take an early lead because I knew tiredness was going to come into it. There was a lot of emphasis in getting the goal in the first 25 minutes and you could see that. I really wanted them to go in front because fatigue, when you’re behind in a game, is a massive factor and it’s a tough task to get something from the game and I didn’t want to be in that position. So, getting ourselves in front was a key factor.”
Derry City: G. Doherty; N. Vemmelund, R. McBride, P. McClean, C. McDermott; C. McCormack, A. McEneff; K. Ward, B. McNamee, N. Boyle (R. Curtis 84); R. Patterson; Subs Not Used - S. Patton, J. Blake, R. Wilson, R. Doherty, J. Daniels, J. Allen.
Bohemians: D. Delany; L. Fitzgerald, R. Lopes, D. Prendergast, D. Mulcahy; A. Ben Mohamed (J. Kelly 70), D. Byrne, E. Wearen (M. Quigley h-t), K. Buckley, P. Kavanagh; K. Byrne; L. Stacey, J. Caffrey, P. Rooney, S. Best.
Referee - Paul Tuite (Dublin).