Derry City boss Ruaidhrí Higgins to watch Riga FC this month

Derry City manager Ruaidhrí Higgins wants to see the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium rocking for next month's European Conference League first round first leg visit of Latvian side, Riga FC.

By Kevin McLaughlin
Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 4:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 14th June 2022, 4:27 pm

Riga have hit top form recently, winning their last five games during which they have scored an impressive 16 goals and Higgins isn't surprised by that form.

He feels their recent European experiences, where they narrowly lost to both Celtic and Malmo, proves their qualities and because of that he wants the City fans to come out in large numbers to create a special European atmosphere at the Lone Moor Road venue.

"When you are involved in European competitions you're going to come up against really good teams and we're doing that in the first round," explained the Derry manager, "But the Brandywell is an extremely special place on a European night.

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Derry City manager Ruaidhrí Higgins will travel to Latvia to watch Riga FC in a few weeks time. Picture by George Sweeney

"We hope that will be the same as it has been in the past and we can create an extraordinary atmosphere for the tie because we'll need the supporters every minute of the game.

"We know we have got players that are very capable of playing on that stage and this tie gives our players a real platform to show how good they are."

The Limavady man has confirmed he will travel to Latvia to watch Riga first hand when they take on current Optibet Virsliga leaders, Valmiera, in the Skonto Stadium on Sunday June 26th.

"The plan is to get out to watch them in a few weeks time," he confirmed. "They play on the Sunday after we play UCD on Friday night, so my plan is to fly over on the Saturday, watch the game on the Sunday and try to get back straight after the game. That's the plan so hopefully we can get everything sorted."

Higgins holds fond memories of Riga's home ground, The Skonto Stadium, both from his time as a player and as assistant manager with Dundalk.

In 2009, it was his cross that picked out Tam McManus to head home Derry City's equaliser against Skonto Riga before, a decade later as Vinny Perth's number two with the Lilywhites, he watched the Dundalk defeat Riga after a penalty shoot-out in a Champions League qualifier. However, he stressed the Latvians have improved dramatically since that tie a few years ago.

"Obviously the two Riga clubs have amalgamated and they have become a really strong force but, yeah, I have had good memories from the ground," he insisted.

"With Derry we drew over there and won at home against Skonto Riga but then against Riga FC with Dundalk in 2019, I was assistant manager and we had two 0-0s and won on penalties, though both games were very tight.

"They have improved dramatically over the last number of years. I think it took Celtic until the 90th minute recently to beat them and they lost very narrowly to Malmo last year in the qualifiers for the Champions League. They have a really good pedigree and it's a game we're really excited about."

With the away goals now scrapped, the Derry boss feels his side need to remain fully focused for both legs and not go out all guns blazing at the Brandywell in a few weeks time.

"It would be extremely naïve if we went gung-ho because you have to look at the game as 180 minutes," he stated, "The tie can ebb and flow within that and removing the 'away goals' rule has changed the dynamic massively. We're at home first and we'll want our crowd to be right behind us but, as I have said before and I won't change, we'll be trying to win the game.

"We'll need everybody on top of their game to do so but now we just need to get to work over the next couple of weeks and get some homework done on them and make sure that the players are prepared immaculately for the game, but prior to that we'll be fully focused on our games here in the League of Ireland, starting with Drogheda on Friday night."