Rovers are nine points clear at the summit of the table and the City boss fully expects the Dubliners to go on and secure consecutive titles.
Stephen Bradley’s troops need just 15 points from their remaining nine games to be crowned champions but Higgins hopes he can stall that march to the title.
"They’re well out in front,” said Higgins. “I think they’re going to be crowned champions again but we have a job to do. We have to try and stall that and put the brakes on it if possible. It will be a huge task. Having said that, I’m not ruling Pat’s out at all, they’re still in the race.”
Higgins’ good friend and former Dundalk teammate Stephen O’Donnell’s St Pat’s side are still very much in the reckoning but it’s not a case of doing the Galwegian a favour as the City boss has his own objectives for the season. Indeed, after securing 17 points from a possible 21 in their last seven games, Derry find themselves just three points behind the automatic European spot with eight games left.
“Regardless of whether we were playing Rovers or not, he (O’Donnell) would be on the phone,” smiled Higgins. “We speak regularly. Rovers played Pat’s last week and we watched the game. But at this stage of the season, we’re going into our fourth game against everyone so I think all teams are very aware of each other at this stage. We have to do what’s best for Derry City Football Club and not think about other clubs.”
Both Derry City chairman Philip O’Doherty and Higgins have made crystal clear their intentions to challenge for the league title during the next three years and have put the wheels in motion with the imminent arrival of marquee signings Patrick McEleney and Michael Duffy from Dundalk.
But in order for the Candy Stripes to bridge the gap on Bradley’s Hoops, who have been the dominant force for the past two seasons, Higgins insists there’s still plenty of work to be done at Brandywell.
“They are the benchmark and I think there’s a lot of work to do to bridge that gap,” he continued. “This is a long term plan and I think we’re showing good progress at the minute but that’s all it is. We just have to keep going, remain focussed and the players at the club have done brilliantly. They’re the ones crossing the white line every week and putting in the performances and putting the points on the board, so all credit to them.
“The players and staff have all been absolutely brilliant. Everyone is working extremely hard and we’re all going in the one direction. There’s a really good spirit. If we’re going to do anything between now and the end of the season then we need to carry that forward. It’s a huge strength of ours that togetherness in the group at the minute.”
Rovers have shown a knack for scoring stoppage time goals to collect valuable points in their title defence with the late winner against St Pat’s last weekend the latest in a long line of dramatic winners this season. Higgins’ Derry team have scored late, late goals in all four of their last four league matches and the Limavady man expects tonight’s encounter to be an entertaining affair on a pitch conducive to free-flowing football.
“We score late goals as well. I think the fitness levels of both groups of players and the determination levels are of a very high standard but hopefully we can sneak a wee late one tomorrow night. We know it’s going to be a difficult task but our players are up for it and ready to go.
“It’s an interesting game. They’re the champions and the best team in the country over the last couple of years. They have a lot of exceptional players and it’s a brilliant stadium for our players to go and play football in.
“It’s something our players should relish and enjoy. If we can continue the form we’re in then we can go there and get a good result.”
Meanwhile, Higgins is disappointed Derry City fans didn’t receive an allocation of tickets for tonight’s match in Dublin despite the fact that 4,000 Rovers supporters will be in attendance.
“I’ve read that and it’s disappointing our supporters can’t travel and enjoy it because it’s a really good ground to be in and the atmosphere is always really good. It’s a really good place to play football so it’s disappointing our supporters won’t be there but we will do everything in our power to make it a good night for them.”