Derry City not out of the title race yet - insists Danny Lafferty

DANNY Lafferty has dismissed suggestions clubs have unlocked the tactical blueprint to beat Derry City, insisting the Brandywell club remain firmly in the Premier Division title hunt.
Danny Lafferty puts Derry City ahead with an early header in the club's 2-1 defeat to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght last October.Danny Lafferty puts Derry City ahead with an early header in the club's 2-1 defeat to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght last October.
Danny Lafferty puts Derry City ahead with an early header in the club's 2-1 defeat to Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght last October.

The Candy Stripes had sprinted to the summit of the table after their best ever start to a top flight season saw them move six points clear of their nearest rivals by April 4th.

Fast forward two months and Ruaidhri Higgins’ charges trail leaders Shamrock Rovers by SEVEN as the season reached its midway point! Three draws against Bohemians (1-1), St Pat’s (0-0) and Finn Harps (2-2) sandwiched between a three match losing run against Rovers (1-0), Dundalk (2-1) and Sligo (2-1) has derailed Derry’s title aspirations and led to criticism from some quarters.

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It’s been an alarming slide which has coincided with the loss of key players Patrick McEleney, who missed four of the last five matches, and Cameron Dummigan who hobbled out of the 2-1 defeat to Sligo Rovers and missed the draw with Finn Harps.

Derry had raced out of the blocks this season and established themselves as Rovers’ only credible rivals in what looked a two horse title race before the emergence of Dundalk.

So what has happened in the interim?

Higgins reckons his side are suffering from a lack of energy and belief and welcomed the timing of the mid-season break he hopes will ‘galvanise’ the squad who return to action in a friendly fixture against Cliftonville on Saturday at Solitude (K.o 3pm.)

Experienced defender Lafferty, however, insists there remains ‘loads of belief’ and confidence in the City dressing room and he hasn’t given up hope of re-igniting a title challenge in the second half of the campaign.

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“People might think confidence is shot but that’s not the case,” said the ex-Burnley and Sheffield United defender. “We’re equally as frustrated (as the fans) with the results recently and just want to get back after the break and start putting things right.”

The fall from grace began after a 4-0 hammering of St Pat’s at Richmond Park as Derry produced arguably the performance of the season on April 29th - a result which made the rest of the league stand up and take notice. From that point onwards opposition teams adopted a different approach when tackling a free-scoring Derry.

When Pat’s made the trip to Brandywell, Tim Clancy’s men refused to come out of their shell but Derry couldn’t break their resolve and the goals dried up as the team scored just four in five matches.

Dundalk and Finn Harps took a different approach and refused to allow Derry to play out from the back as the Candy Stripes began to adapt desperately to a long ball game, attempting to find Jamie McGonigle with long balls into the channels and a lack of creativity in the final third found them wanting at times.

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However, Lafferty doesn’t believe teams have now ‘got Derry’s number’ and reckons it was simply a case of tired bodies or tired minds that saw the team’s form falter.

“I don’t think there’s a blueprint out there to beat Derry City Football Club” he added. “We know on our night we can beat any team in the league. We’ve seen that against Pats away and some other unbelievable performances. There’s loads of belief in there.

“Obviously the last few weeks, we haven’t been where we were before. So we want to get back to those levels and start picking up wins again.

“Everybody can probably see it, we kind of need it (the break) as players, as a group. We’ve get away from the place for a couple of days, rest up, spend some time with families and get ready to come back and try and get going again.

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“We’re missing players and you can see that out there. For whatever reason, whether it’s mental or physical fatigue, the break has come at a great time for us. We can all go away now, put our feet up and look forward to the second half of the season. There’s still lots of games to be played. We’re only at the halfway mark so we’ll come back and hit the ground running and get back to winning football matches.”

A nine match unbeaten run at the start of the season instilled belief in the Derry players and supporters and Lafferty insists the team has the capabilities to repeat that form when the football resumes against Drogheda United at Brandywell on June 17th - a match in which the Carnhill man can reach a significant milestone of 100 games for his hometown club!

“Of course we have aspirations as a football club and as a group of players and we definitely have the capabilities to go on a run of winning matches. We have a lot of winnable fixtures hopefully coming up after the break. So we want to get back, hit the ground running and come back rested and ready to go against Drogheda at home.

“We want to get back to winning football matches,” he repeated. “The last few matches have been disappointing and if we have any real aspirations then we need to get back to picking up three points every week.

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“If you take a step back and take stock of where we’re at, ultimately we’re pleased but it feels a bit deflated because of the position we put ourselves in a few weeks back.

“Recent results didn’t go our way. We didn’t get the rub of the green but you saw against Harps, we kept fighting and that’s something about this group, we’ll never stop trying right until the very end.

“You saw that last year and earlier in this season, getting late goals and there’s something to build on there.”