Derry City has no inferiority complex when it comes to Shamrock Rovers says Ruaidhri Higgins
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The Limavady man had taken charge of the Brandywell club just three weeks before that 1-1 draw when Liam Scales' controversial throw-in from the wrong position resulted in Rory Gaffney's equaliser in a game Derry should've won.
Prior to that first meeting between the clubs under Higgins tenure, Derry had taken just two points from their previous 11 meetings with the Dubliners and the Foylesiders' Premier Division status was under threat as they propped up the table.
A significant resurgence under Higgins ensued and Rovers' dominance over Derry has diminished in the intervening years as the Candy Stripes emerged as title contenders and games between the teams have been significantly more competitive.
The FAI Cup triumph last season and the head-to-head record with Stephen Bradley's troops has given reason for optimism with Derry winning four of their meetings against Rovers over the past two seasons.
The 2-0 President's Cup win over the Hoops at Brandywell and a morale-boosting 2-1 win in Tallaght in the league the following month served to inject further confidence into the veins of the City players.
As the race for the 2023 League of Ireland title builds towards a crescendo with the league's top two meeting at Brandywell on Friday night, Higgins is brimming with confidence as his team go into a potential title decider unbeaten in nine league fixtures.
Their last loss in the competition was at the hands of Rovers on June 26th when Gaffney's first half strike moved the three-in-a-row champions seven points clear.
The final meeting between the two teams this year could be a defining one as Derry trail the leaders by four points with seven games to go but Higgins insists the mindset of his players couldn't be in a better place.
"I've said to anyone that will listen that this is too big of a football club," said Higgins. "It was really important that we did change that mentality.
"Even in my first year here, when we came out of nowhere to finish in Europe, we went down to Tallaght and should have won the game. We were 1-0 up and they took a throw in 25-30 yards down the pitch and scored from it.
"We were really good in the game and I think that performance that day changed the mindset of our players, that we're capable of this.
"We have obviously added quality over the last couple of years to that as well, but there is a belief in this group that we can go toe-to-toe with anybody and we just need to back it up. Talk is cheap. We know that we're capable and we just have to deliver now."
And there's no danger Higgins will deviate from his offensive playbook on Friday night as he goes in search of a crucial victory.
"Listen, I think Steven Bradley would be the first day to admit that we've always had a go, never really sat in against them," said Higgins.
"The matches have been good. We've managed to turn them over a few times. They've turned us over over a few times.
"So you're right, there'll be no inferiority complex, that's for sure. Our players have shown in the last few months, the capacity to win big football matches and hopefully we can have that mindset and that drive going into Friday night that we can produce a really good performance.
"Once you produce a really good performance it gives you a chance to get the result. And that's all we can focus on."
Careful not to be caught up in the moment or the potential gravity of the outcome, Higgins is relishing being involved in another gigantic tussle at the top of the table.
"It's what you're involved in football for. You don't dream of staying up or being around the middle of the table. You dream of being successful, of winning trophies, of playing in big matches.
"We've put ourselves in a position. I think the group has grown over the last couple of years in a really positive manner.
"We have a brilliant group of people and there's a real honesty and togetherness. I know and understand why we may have been questioned in recent times but I think over the last couple of months, we've seen a real togetherness.
"We've had key personnel available to us and it's coincided with us going on a really good run.
"Listen, if we get a win on Friday it puts us right in the mix and that's all we can focus on.
"We won't look too far ahead. We won't talk about winning league titles right now but if you win on Friday night then you have to think about it much more seriously I suppose.
“It will be a good match that's for sure if they're at their best and we're at our best it would be some game of football. I'll back my players every day of the week and he'll back his.
"Listen, a few months ago we spoke as a group about putting ourselves in a position over a period of time to set up something for ourselves and we've managed to do that.
“All credit goes to our players about how they've gone about their business over the last few months. We've given ourselves an opportunity.”