Derry City boss hails 'character' and 'belief' of his team after last gasp equaliser
RUAIDHRI HIGGINS felt an inspired performance from Finn Harps keeper Mark Anthony McGinley who produced a string of 'world class' saves denied his Derry City team a deserved victory in a tempestuous North West derby at Brandywell.
The Harps' stopper denied Derry substitute Jamie McGonigle three times in the final 20 minutes of the match with a magnificent reaction save with his outstretched leg the best of the lot.
In a game Derry dominated for large spells, McGinley was exceptional before he saw red for his part in a huge melee involving both sets of players once Joe Thomson's bullet strike drew the home side level on 90 minutes.
"He made three outstanding saves and he's good at that," said Higgins. "He makes point blank saves. I remember the one he made down in Sligo, an incredible save! He has made three brilliant saves from Jamie (McGonigle) tonight. And I think everyone would agree that when you get chances like that it's Jamie who you want on the end of them because he's clinical but the lad has made a few brilliant saves in fairness to him."
City goalscoring hero Thomson was also shown a straight red by referee Neil Doyle for his involvement in the fracas and Higgins admitted both sets of players had lost their composure in a frantic finale.
"Both teams then lost their composure because it was crazy that couple of minutes, but I'm just glad we got the goal we thoroughly deserved and on another day we could've won that game."
Having failed to get a good view of the incident at the end, the Derry boss said he would review the video footage before deciding on whether to appeal Thomson's red card.
"I was miles away from it so I couldn't see it. I think Joe just sprinted to get the ball back because we were in the ascendancy to go and try and win it. Eunan, our cameraman will have a good angle because he was on the other side so I'll have a good look at it over the weekend and see where we go but I genuinely believe, and I've asked Joe, that he's gone to retrieve the ball to restart it as quickly as possible. And I think they've evened it up there to be honest with you.
"I asked Joe there and he said he's literally thinking about winning the game and I think he dived on top of the ball. I'm not sure yet but when I watch it back, if I think it's worth appealing then we'll definitely appeal it."
With both teams hoping to make inroads in the race for European qualification there was a lot at stake beyond the usual bragging rights. And Higgins felt the match certainly got the pulses racing with four top class goals, two red cards and plenty of heated exchanges between the two dugouts throughout.
Higgins described football without fans as 'fake football' and so he was also delighted to hear the passion and emotion from the Brandywell terraces once again which added to what was a hugely entertaining game.
"It's an emotional game. It's a passionate game. We have all sat in grounds when there were no supporters and it's not football really. It's fake football when there's no crowd there. Tonight is why supporters love the game. There's passion in the ground and stuff happening. As a manager I'd like for us to be a goal or two in front but when you're going into the 90 minute 2-1 down you'll take a point.
"I would've liked to be two or three goals in front after the chances we created. It's not good for the heart to be honest," he smiled.
Having earned three valuable points against Sligo with a late Ronan Boyce winner recently, Higgins was delighted with the character shown by his team as they once again battled right until the death to salvage something from the game.
"It's one point gained when you're going into the 90th minute and you're 2-1 down but I think if you analyse the game, statistically it's two points dropped. But I'm a lot happier with the intensity and energy and drive from the players. Again it's another late goal so it shows there's real character and belief in the team.
"I think the game had a bit of everything," he continued. "I'm happy with our performance levels. We've created a hell of a lot of chances. On another day you win the game and pick up three points but when you get into the 90th minute 2-1 down you'll accept a point and it's another late goal."
With Sligo Rovers defeating St Pat's and Drogheda winning against Bohemians, the fight for the final European spot remains wide open and Higgins expects plenty more twists and turns before the season's end.
"There's a lot to play for and it's exciting. The points between second from bottom and third or fourth, I've never seen it like this before. There's something in every single fixture. Every game is a big game. There's a lot to be excited about between now and the end of the season."