Derry City 'don't belong in the bottom three' insists Declan Devine
Declan Devine believes his under-fire Derry City team don't belong among the bottom three teams in the League of Ireland.
Five games without a victory has left the Brandywell outfit languishing at the foot of the Airtricity League Premier Division table but Devine has seen enough in recent performances to confidently predict an upturn in fortunes.
Ronan Boyce's bullet first half header clawed back an early deficit and sealed the club's first point of the season against Drogheda United on Friday night but their wait for a win goes on.
The games come thick and fast, however, and they prepare for a third in the space of seven days against fellow early season strugglers Dundalk at Brandywell on Tuesday night.
While disappointed not to leapfrog the Lilywhites at the foot of the table, Devine hopes the club's first point of the season proves to kickstart his side's campaign.
There have been some green shoots of recovery of late and the Creggan man is adamant Derry can compete against the best teams in the division, praising his players for showing no fear or dip in confidence over the past few testing weeks.
"There's nobody getting too downbeat," said Devine. "We know we have a lot of work to do and I certainly do not think we're in the bottom two or three teams in the country. On our day we're a match for anybody but realistically we need to make sure we're getting a couple of wins under our belt over the next couple of games."
That certainly won't be easy against a Dundalk team intent on getting their own season up and running and against a Sligo Rovers who have made an impressive start. A trip to Bohemians and a crunch North West derby against high flying Finn Harps then complete the first series of fixtures.
Devine knows his team must cut out the 'soft' goals and find a cutting edge in the final third if they're to dig themselves out the trenches but the Creggan man is confident Derry can compete against the best teams in the division.
He believes his team can 'kick on' after earning their first point of the campaign and he praised his players for showing the character to bounce back from Drogheda defender James Brown's early strike.
"It has to kick us on. We have to get better and we can't settle for that. We have to take our criticism in certain aspects of our game up until this moment in time but there's also been moments in almost all the games with the exception of one, maybe two where we've been quite dominant but we've got to be better. We have to have more style of play in the final third.
"We've given away a soft goal again tonight. I think it came from a throw-in again. We keep talking about this but if you nullify the threats defensively and give ourselves a platform with talented players like (Will) Patching, (James) Akintunde, (David) Parkhouse, (Will) Fitzgerald. We need to get better on both ends of the pitch. We need to defend better and attack collectively as a group better."
Fitzgerald was gifted a glorious chance to give Derry the lead in the game when Patching found him with an outstanding ball over the top of the Drogs' defence. However, the Limerick native opted to head towards goal instead of taking the ball down on his chest and keeper Colin McCabe saved comfortably. It was another of those sliding doors moments Derry have experienced this season as the visitors went ahead shortly afterwards with Brown slotting in from Dane Massey's deflected cross.
Drogheda had two further gilt-edged chances to get back in front with the dangerous Brown and substitute Brandon Bermingham failing to punish the home side in the second half but defeat would have been cruel on Derry.
Overall Devine felt a share of the spoils was a fair outcome and he chose to focus on the positives of the performance.
"It probably was to be fair (a fair outcome)," he agreed. "We've given ourselves a mountain to climb again by going a goal behind. However, our reaction to going a goal behind was everything I wanted. We showed tremendous character and belief in each other.
We finished the first half very well but didn't start the second half very well. I think we were waiting on things to happen whereas after they scored we were very much on teh front foot and were asking questions of them.
"As I said to them, we wanted to hurt them down the sides in the second half but never really moved the ball from the back out to the wide areas with any real purpose.
"Over the last couple of games I don't think there's too many players who have played poorly. We've just got to nullify the goals we're giving away and give ourselves a platform and a chance to win points.
"Drogheda are a good side and have a lot of good players there but we've got to be winning these games at home. If we don't give away the first goal I think we would've gone on to win the game, we were so dominant towards the end of the first half."
The emergence of 19 year-old defender Boyce has been one of the major positives over the past fortnight with the Ramelton native performing like a seasoned pro against Shamrock Rovers and again against Drogheda - his only two senior starts to date!
Boyce has been on the fringes of the first team for quite some time and he repaid Devine in full after the Derry boss kept faith with him.
"The boys will be the first to tell you, he's been the best player since we've come back. Since preseason he's been the best player, he's waited for his chance. It's unorthodox for him to play right back as he's normally a centre back with the U19s. His attitude and application coming into training every day has been second to none and for me the young lad has a brilliant future in the game. He continues to show the character at such a young age with his drive and determination and his bravery to get on the ball. There's not many centre backs who can play out in the wide areas of the pitch and he just looks so comfortable there."
Dundalk coaches, Fililppo Giovagnoli and Giuseppe Rossi were both interested spectators in the Mark Farren Stand on Friday night while Devine goes to Oriel Park tonight ahead of the Lilywhites' clash with St Patrick's Athletic.
Devine will hope the extra day's rest will give his side an edge as the two teams meet on Tuesday night but for now, he's happy to build on some 'positive signs'.
"The boys will be tired tonight and tomorrow so we've got to make sure we're ready for Dundalk. I'll go down and watch Dundalk tomorrow and hopefully we can get our first win on Tuesday."