Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins hails Patrick McEleney 'brilliance' after Cork City victory
RUAIDHRI Higgins knows he can rely on his skipper to produce moments of quality when he needs it the most.
Patrick McEleney has a penchant for the spectacular and his stylish finish 32 minutes into Derry City's first home fixture of the season unlocked a stubborn Cork defence.
It was his first goal since his winning strike at Tolka Park on March 4th last season when he marked his 200th Derry City appearance with a close range finish and almost 12 months later he popped up with another important goal.
The gifted Shantallow man conjured a special strike around the body of a Cork defender and into the corner of the net at the Showgrounds end which cut a knife through any nervous tension at Brandywell.
Cork were rigid, well organised and dangerous on the break but after McEleney's strike Derry began to get the home support on side and control proceedings.
Jordan McEneff's clinical and somewhat nonchalant strike from Ryan Graydon's superb cross in the second half sealed the win for the Candy Stripes who have taken four points from their opening two fixtures.
They've yet to hit second gear but Higgins knows as long as he's got players like McEleney, his team can enjoy the luxury of being patient when deep lying, well organised teams come to Brandywell to spoil the show.
That's exactly the tactics Colin Healy deployed on Friday night and Derry found it difficult to get in behind a resolute defence until 'Fats' stroked the ball into the net with his wand of a right foot.
Operating in a much deeper role under Higgins, goals haven't come as often as he would like but the City boss wasn't surprised to see his skipper come to the fore when it mattered most.
"I've played him deeper but with that quality and that shooting ability of both feet, he'd be the first to admit he'd like to score more goals," agreed Higgins.
"That's what big game players do. That's what the best players do when you need them most to pop up with a bit of brilliance and that's what he did.
"That was Patrick's first start of the season and he's scored. I think with the real talent he has I would maybe like to see a wee bit more of that but you saw some of the goals he's scored over the years, some unbelievable goals and for me I think he's one of the best players this league has seen for the last 20 or 30 years.
"That's why he's captain. He comes in the big moments and produces in the big games and we absolutely love him here."
McEneff is another man endearing himself to the Brandywell faithful with his performances and the two vital goals he's scored already this season.
It's two from two for the ex-Arsenal man and his goal against Cork sealed the points.
"Patience was key. They sat in a low block and minimised spaces and it was either going to be a moment of brilliant or a mistake or whatever. We've got quality all through the pitch so it was no surprise to me that one of our real talented players came and produced when we needed them to.
"Jordan has had a few horrendous years in his career and all he needed was to string months of training together and some games. He's always had the athleticism, he's always had the talent but he hasn't had any luck. Hopefully he's having that wee bit of luck now and I'm delighted for him because it's been a tough time and he's getting the reward now he deserves."
Another top performer on the night was Brian Maher who saved superbly with his outstretched leg to deny Barry Coffey a chance to level the game just before the break. The Dubliner later denied Keating from close range and had to scramble back towards his goal to claw Ben Doherty's header off the line. For Higgins, his goalkeeper saw too much action on the night for his liking.
"Brian had too many saves to make for my liking but it was all off balls down our throats, flick ons, second balls because Cork had so much size over us. Brian was excellent tonight and showed what an outstanding goalkeeper he was.
"Although a few of their chances came towards the end of the game. By and large we had control of the game and deserved the win.
"We're going to get better, there's no doubt about that but we take our points and move on."
Corkman Adam O'Reilly was a notable absentee on the night in the middle of the park and he's set to miss several weeks due to a hamstring injury.
Derry's injury list is growing and Higgins is glad he can welcome back Sadou Diallo from suspension for Friday's trip to Tallaght.
"There were a lot of key personnel missing tonight and we were still able to field a team of that quality and bring on Cian Kavanagh, Brandon Kavanagh and Ronan Boyce so we're doing okay.
"Just in training yesterday or late in the session on Wednesday he (O'Reilly) felt a twinge so we're going to have to see how that is. It's unfortunate because he's had such a good start to the season but we'll get him right.
"Diallo comes back next week from suspension which is great and very timely. So we'll see how the next week goes and go down to Tallaght and have a go."
Higgins will fly out to Sweden with his family on Wednesday to complete the repatriation of his brother Kevin's remains ahead of a funeral service later in the week.
It's a difficult time for the Higgins family and while the City boss returns on Thursday and is hopeful to be in Tallaght on Friday, it's unlikely that he will fulfil his usual matchday obligations.