IT WAS Derry City’s first league victory over Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds in NINE years but the most pleasing aspect of this performance was the glaring transformation from when the club last visited the venue.
On February 23rd last, Kenny Shiels’ troops slumped to a dismal 2-1 defeat in the shadow of Benbulben mountain as their hosts dug deep to clinch what has proved to be their only home win of the campaign to date.
Derry were out-fought, lacked cohesion and devoid of leadership at the back, with many using the result to predict a long, hard slog of a season for the Candy Stripes.
But what a difference two months can make!
In the face of that criticism, this Derry team has shown they possess the necessary resilience to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks that occur during a season.
And in contrast to February, Saturday saw City strollto a comfortable win, showing control, dominance in defence and fluidity in attack during an accomplished performance on the road.
Rory Patterson netted his third goal of the season when his 17th minute free-kick deflected off David Cawley in the Sligo wall and nestled into the net to give City a deserved lead.
And the club’s top scorer, Ronan Hale fired in his sixth of the season on 74 minutes as his low shot crept under the body of Micheal Schlingermann to decide the contest.
Winning breeds confidence and the four game winning run prior to this clash gave Derry an edge over their struggling opponents who were condemned to a sixth defeat.
There has been a remarkable transition since that last visit and, as goalscorer, Patterson said afterwards, ‘Everyone knows their job now’.
Former Sligo Rovers stalwart, Gavin Peers, who won the 2012 League of Ireland title and three FAI Cups with the Bit O’Red, was handed his debut and his commanding presence gave City stability at the back. Alongside skipper, Gerard Doherty and Patterson, the spine of the squad was as experienced as any team in the country and it showed.
Shiels opted for a three-man defence when the teams last met in the second game of the season and it was pulled apart at will by an uninspiring Sligo team, themselves rough around the edges.
Armin Aganovic has been shown the exit door since that disastrous defensive showing while Shiels has reverted to a back four, bringing in Blackburn loanee, Jack Doyle at left back. And, although regular centre half, Darren Cole (groin) missed out through injury, Peers came in and the City defence looked compact and well organised while the impressive Conor McDermott and Doyle add fantastic energy from the fullback positions and provide balance.
The midfield diamond of Rory Hale, Nicky Low and Aaron McEneff has been outstanding, linking defence with attack in recent weeks and they stood up when the game threatened to, at times, boil over with certain Sligo players allowing their frustrations to get the better of them.
And the front three of Patterson, Ronan Curtis and the in-form Ronan Hale - who bagged his sixth goal of the season to make sure of the points - have developed a promising relationship which has garnered 13 goals in 10 games so far.
So, with that 2-1 loss at the Showground last February banished to the history books, things are looking bright for this young City team as they look ahead to Friday night’s visit of high flying Waterford to Brandywell Stadium.
Saturday’s victory has moved Derry into fifth place, one point behind Shamrock Rovers with two games in hand over the Hoops. And Shiels is delighted the superb City support in the Jinks Avenue Stand were sent home happy this time.
“It’s nine years since Derry have won here in the league so I’m pleased for the supporters who came in good numbers and gave us good support.
“I’m pleased they can go back down the road with three points in the bag.”