Derry City must grasp title winning opportunity against Shamrock Rovers insists Ruaidhri Higgins
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There was significant pressure on Derry to produce the goods in their rescheduled game-in-hand against the Students and it was clear from the outset they weren't prepared to let this opportunity go begging.A five star performance which included a sublime finish from man of the moment Will Patching, moved Derry three points ahead of third placed St Patrick's Athletic and more importantly closed the gap on Rovers to just four points ahead of next Friday night's visit of the champions to Tallaght.
More than that, however, an unbeaten run of six games in the league and two wins in the space of five days has bolstered confidence and morale within the Brandywell ranks at the perfect time in the season.
Higgins pointed out afterwards that his team has taken 13 points from a possible 15 in their last five league encounters and it's 17 from their last 24 dating back to the 2-0 win over Cork back in June 23rd - surely title winning form at the business end of the season!
Another professional display in Dublin on Wednesday and more evidence of Derry finding their goalscoring touch has heightened Higgins’ belief his team can clinch a big win over Rovers next week which could potentially give them the edge in an enthralling title run-in.
"Listen, there is no point dressing it up any other way, it is a big game, it is a really big game," said Higgins of the Rovers clash.
"It is one that is to be embraced and enjoyed and I'm sure it will be built up over the next week or so and rightly so.
"We are confident we'll take on anybody at the minute. We will obviously respect them the way they deserve to be respected but we will be going to win the game. I think the way we are playing, I have no doubts we can do it.
"Over the last few months I think we have been very, very good. Hopefully we can welcome back a couple of the walking wounded in the not too distant future and we have an even stronger squad going into the Rovers game."
It's been an unpredictable league campaign with Rovers, Bohemians, St Pat's and Derry taking turns at leading the pack but with just seven games to go the Candy Stripes appear the biggest threat to the Hoops' chase for four-in-a-row.
Bearing in mind Derry's horrendous injury difficulties this year it would be one hell of an achievement should they bridge a 26 years gap for the title.
"If you had offered it to me three or four months ago when things weren't going brilliantly, then absolutely," added Higgins.
"What have we taken? Thirteen from our last 15 points in the league and scoring a lot of goals. The players deserve huge, huge credit and the good thing is we are going into the Rovers game in really good form."
It's been a 'gruelling few months' for Higgins' charges who led the way for League of Ireland teams in Europe this term and he's given the players a few days to recover ahead of that crunch match on Foyleside.
"We have put ourselves in the position that some mightn't have thought we would, so we have to go and try to grasp it and take the opportunity that is presenting itself.
"We don't have a game for nine days and have had a gruelling few months so a few days off to recharge and come back ready for a big game."
The free-scoring Candy Stripes looked hungry for the win at a typically subdued Belfield for the midweek fixture in south Dublin. Patching continued his outstanding run of form with a brace of goals for the second game running.
Paul McMullan has been instrumental in Derry's run since his summer signing and set up his fellow Scot, Danny Mullen for the opening goal after just two minutes which set the tone for the match.
Brandon Kavanagh showed his professionalism and quality once more as he was given the nod to start and produced two excellent goals.
However Patching's marvellous, nonchalant first time finish from McMullan's pass on 40 minutes was the highlight of the perfect night in Dublin.
"It is confidence and players playing with belief,” answered Higgins when asked about the recipe for his team’s current form. “I think in Mullen and McMullan we've added real quality at the top end and we have more strength in depth in those areas. “When there is pressure on people to stay in the team you find it can take players up levels.
"It was very, very good from minute one, really good. That's what we asked for before the game, real professionalism. We knew there wasn't going to be an atmosphere here tonight. It was brilliant of the supporters that came down but we knew that it wasn't going to be, it's not one of those grounds where there is a brilliant atmosphere so it was all about our professionalism and how we went about it.
And a special mention for Patching who has been in inspired form of late.
"The last two months, from the Sligo game at home when he came on and scored a penalty in the last minute, I think from that point onwards it has been his best period of form that I have seen from him.
"Over the last couple of months he has been brilliant. He's happy, he's enjoying his football. He's injury free and he's playing with freedom and he is a top end player when he is in that mindset.”