PAUL HEGARTY had challenged Derry City’s creative players to come to the fore and deliver a result which would almost guarantee their Premier Division survival on Friday night.
And they certainly responded to that rallying cry from the first whistle against Bray Wanderers, as a full throttle opening blew away the beleaguered ‘Seagulls’.
They say fortune favours the brave and that certainly proved the case as Hegarty’s bold decision to let his attacking players off the leash worked wonders.
The club’s top goalscorer, Mark Timlin produced another sublime strike which rippled the Bray net after just four minutes - his 11th goal of the campaign!
And Dean Jarvis headed City into a 2-0 lead from the impressive Stephen Dooley’s corner on 10 minutes with his second headed goal in three games as his Derry City career seems to have been elevated to a new level since Hegarty assumed the caretaker role.
The ‘Candy Stripes’ could have added to their tally in an impressive first half but Peter Cherrie produced a top save to deny Ciaran O’Connor from a one-on-one situation just before the interval.
I said to the players at half-time it was time for good players to step up when they have to and Patrick stepped up with an absolute wonder strike and that’s what he’s capable of.Paul Hegarty
Bray hit back in the second half through Graham Kelly who took advantage of a mistake from Ben McLaughlin, as Derry took their foot off the gas.
However, Patrick McEleney - who drew high praise from Derry’s caretaker boss for his attacking prowess - produced a moment of brilliance to put the game beyond Bray on 63 minutes.
It was an hugely impressive team performance from Derry given the defensive reshuffle required in the absence of Ryan McBride and Aaron Barry as Seamus Sharkey and Rob Cornwall came in and performed admirably.
And it’s no coincidence that Derry’s upturn in fortunes have coincided with Conor McCormack’s arrival. The Carlingford native has been influential in the centre of the park, dictating play and he stood out despite Bray’s attempts to flood the midfield.
It was a result which goes some way to securing Derry’s survival. Having registered seven points from a possible nine against teams who were all previously above them in the table since Hegarty took the reigns, Derry find themselves best placed out of the seven teams battling against the drop.
Hegarty was delighted with this latest result and - although he maintains Derry are still far from safe despite being six points off bottom club Limerick who they meet at Markets Field this Friday night - he was pleased the decision to go for the jugular reaped its rewards.
“We started like a house on fire and I thought we could have had one or two more before half-time,” he said.
“If someone had of asked me before the match would I take 3-1 I would have broke their arm for it.
“The players were excellent. Their workrate, their application and everything about them.
“We changed the way we have been playing. We went 4-4-2 because we felt we hadn’t created as many chances in the previous two games as we would have liked. And, against Bray, we had a proper go from the start and the players done the business.
“We went at them from the first whistle and Mark Timlin scored a cracking goal,” he recalled. “I felt he had a great game and then Dean Jarvis popped up with another one from a set-piece.
“Seamus Sharkey came in at centre back and hasn’t played in a long time and he’s a credit to himself the way he performed.
“Right through the team there were a hell of a lot of good performances. They had an a extra man in the middle of the park a lot of the time and I felt Conor McCormack and Barry McNamee were superb in there.
“We didn’t start the second half too well and they scored a goal out of nothing, It was a mistake and people make mistakes.
“But you look at how players react to making mistakes. Ben McLaughlin is 20 years-old but he reacted like a proper man the way he went about his business after that and he had a big hand in Patrick McEleney’s goal.”
McEleney’s contribution proved crucial on the night - his 25 yard thunderbolt breaking Bray’s resolve.
“I said to the players at half-time it was time for good players to step up when they have to and Patrick stepped up with an absolute wonder strike and that’s what he’s capable of,” said Hegarty.
“That’s what he has in his locker. As well as his goal I thought his overall contribution to the match was superb.
“He’s been out for three weeks and has played 90 minutes and will only get better from that.”
The City playmaker found himself starting on the left wing, however, he had Bray defenders on the backfoot during a particularly effective first half.
“Sometimes when he plays in a central position we can’t get the ball often enough into him,” explained the Derry boss. “When Patrick gets one-on-one with anybody he’s well capable of destroying the best players in this country. That’s what we’re trying to do - get him isolated one on one at times and in the first half I felt it worked well.”
While any relegation concerns were significantly eased by the 3-1 win, Hegarty insists his side will continue to fight for every point until they are mathematically safe from the drop.
“There’s a long way to go and it’s far from being done and dusted.
“We have to pick up more points and we’ll go to Limerick next week and try get a win down there. This team are well capable of beating anybody. “You don’t know what’s going to happen next week or the week after it. We just take one game at a time and we’re at Limerick next and we’ll try and win that. That’s the best we can do.”
Derry City: G. Doherty: B. McLaughlin, S., Sharkey, R. Cornwall, D. Jarvis; S. Dooley ( A. McEneff 63), B. McNamee, C. McCormack, M. Timlin; P. McEleney (R. Curtis 90), C. O’Connor (M. Quigley 59); Subs Not Used - S. Patton, P. McClean, C. Morrison, J. Daniels.
Bray: P. Cherrie; H. Douglas, A. McNally, N. Cooney, M. Barker; A. Hanlon ( E. Onwubiko 78)J. Sullivan, R. McEvoy, D. Cassidy, G. Kelly (L. Fitzgerald,66); C. Lyons (D. Scully 66); Subs Not Used - S. Fogarty, A. Mitchell, A. Wixted, G. McDonagh.
Referee - Paul Tuite (Dublin).