Ruaidhri Higgins blames quick turnaround for lacklustre draw with Sligo Rovers

RUAIDHRI Higgins blamed the quick turnaround in fixtures for the 'lack of energy' on display as a frustrated Derry City were held to a scoreless draw by Sligo Rovers at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.

Derry City debutante Mattie Smith put under pressure by Sligo Rovers players. Photo: George Sweeney
Derry City debutante Mattie Smith put under pressure by Sligo Rovers players. Photo: George Sweeney

Fresh from Friday night's morale-boosting stoppage time victory over Shamrock Rovers at the same venue, Derry appeared to start as they left off against the champions.

Passing the ball sharply around the pitch, the home side dominated possession in the opening half hour and if it wasn't for a superb acrobatic save from Ed McGinty to deny Brandon Kavanagh his first City goal and the woodwork which thwarted Jamie McGonigle for the third time this year already, the match would surely have slipped away from the visitors.

It wasn't to be, however, and the longer the half went on, the more confident Sligo became as they grew into the match and the Bit O'Red could've taken the lead into the interval when David Cawley crashed his close range shot off the underside of the crossbar.

It was a lethargic performance from the Candy Stripes in the second half despite the introduction of debutante Matty Smith and Ronan Boyce from the bench and while Higgins felt Sligo were happier with the result, neither team did enough to win it.

And the City boss claimed the three day turnaround at this early juncture in the season certainly didn't help matters. Nor did the significant effort and energy expended during that late, late win over Rovers.

"I think we started the game exceptionally well," reflected Higgins. "In the first half hour we were dominant. We played in their half, we hit the crossbar and I think when you go Friday, Monday and you're in that dominant period at home, you have to score.

"You have to take your opportunities and make the game more open and they have to come out then. From 35 minutes onwards I think it was a very flat match. I'm not making excuses at all but I think Friday, Monday so early in the season doesn't really make sense to me.

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"Second half both teams cancelled each other out and there was a lack of energy on the pitch from both teams. Players are only getting real fitness at this stage so you could see a lot of tired bodies in both teams.

"They're probably happier than us with the point. If you do score in that period in the first half they have to come out and play and it's a more open game but it wasn't to be. Not everything is going to go your way all the time so we have to accept it and recover properly and prepare for Shelbourne on Friday."

Patrick McEleney made his first start for the club since his return to Foyleside but was taken off close to the hour mark and Higgins explained the coaching staff are ensuring they take no risks with the talented attacker. He also confirmed Michael Duffy had intensified his recovery from a hamstring injury which has saw him miss the opening three matches so far.

"The plan was always to start him tonight (McEleney) and gradually increase his minutes. He'll grow and get fitter and stronger from that. Regardless of how the game was going to be honest he was coming off at 60 or 65 minutes. He's going to be a brilliant player for this club and we have to be careful; and manage his load.

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"We'll see," he responded when asked about Duffy's potential return ahead of the Shelbourne game. "It's just day by day and we're increasing his workload. We're definitely not going to take any chances. There's no need and it's too early to be taking chances on anybody."

So after the opening three matches Derry has garnered five points in games against Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers. How does Higgins rate that return?

"To be honest, away to Dundalk, home to Shamrock Rovers, Sligo, two of the top three from last year and Dundalk away on the first day Stephen O'Donnell's first game, so all in all I think it's a decent return. Not when you're taking four from your first two, you want to capitalise on that at home but it wasn't to be and we move on.

"When you're the home team you need to capitalise on that and make the away team come out and play and it's a different game. It wasn't to be but we're unbeaten and we move on."

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Derry City held scoreless by resolute Sligo Rovers