Derry City players deserve 'huge credit' for unbeaten start to season says Ruaidhri Higgins
Ruaidhri Higgins believes his Derry City team deserve 'huge credit' for their unbeaten start to the 2023 SSE Airtricity League campaign given the 'unforgiving' nature of the competition.
Despite suffering several injury setbacks to key players Derry still managed to amass 10 points from a possible 12 during the opening four matches which included trips to Richmond Park and Tallaght Stadium.
The Candy Stripes face into a third game in the space of seven days when an in-form Dundalk arrive on Foyleside and while Higgins' troops haven't yet reached their peak, the City boss believes his team deserve plaudits for how they've navigated their way through the opening fixtures.
"I don't think it's fair saying we haven't got out of second gear," he said. "We've had three aways out of our four (fixtures) and have taken seven points. And we've won at home to Cork bearing in mind Cork beat UCD 4-0 and then went and scored four in Tallaght.
"This league is an unforgiving league and people need to realise how difficult this league is. UCD drew with Dundalk so to win football matches in this league you have to earn the right.
"We're in good form and we're fighting for each other but it's been natural performances at this stage of the season. No one is ever at their best at this stage of the season and over time our performances will improve.
"It's funny saying that because we're sitting here with 10 points from 12 but we expect to get better."
Taking six points from two trips to Dublin including that fantastic 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers which ended the champions' long unbeaten run in Tallaght certainly isn't to be sniffed at.
And Higgins felt the way his players responded to the quick turnaround for the game against UCD the following Monday was a sign of their professionalism.
"As a mark of the professionalism of our players, you go from Friday night in Tallaght where there's 7,500 people watching two of the best teams in the country and then you have to motivate yourself when you go to UCD. There's no big crowd, the pitch was poor, you're expected to win and that's not easy.
"People may think it's easy but it's not, I can assure you and so to go there and put in a professional performance like we did, the players deserve huge credit."
Derry were able to make four changes for that encounter and were in a position to rest skipper Patrick McEleney and bring Mark Connolly ashore early in the second half. It reinforced the strength of Higgins' squad this season and he's delighted with how everyone is pulling together.
"Everyone is a part of it here and we're all pushing in the one direction which is what we need to be a successful team."
That in itself poses a selection problem and with so many options in midfield, does Jordan McEneff's rich vein of form guarantee the former Arsenal man his place in the starting line-up for the visit of Dundalk.
When asked if the many midfield options gave him a headache, Higgins smiled and answered: "All headaches are welcome."
Higgins isn't surprised with the midfield man's superb start to the campaign which has produced four goals but believes he needs to manage McEneff sensibly given his lack of gametime and unfortunate spate of injuries in recent seasons.
"Clubs weren't jumping through hoops to sign him at the end of the season, that's for sure," he said. "We know in time, and it's still very early because this is the most football he's played in years so we have to manage him and look after him and do all the right things by him.
"He's had a great start to the season and needs to keep working hard and if he continues that type of form we'll all be happy.
"I've known Jordan from 14 years of age and I know what a talent he is ad what he's capable of but he's still got bits to improve and work on and I'm sure that will come in time.