DERRY City’s Premier Division title credentials will come under scrutiny at the Sligo Showgrounds tomorrow afternoon, the “Candy Stripes” facing a crucial clash at a venue which has proved particularly difficult over recent seasons. (Kick-off: 2.45 p.m.)
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
And with the game televised “live” on RTE 2, it comes as no surprise that the crunch clash has been described as the “game of the weekend.”
Given that Sligo were stunned when travelling to the Brandywell before losing out 5-3 on penalties in the recent League Cup semi-final, a game which saw Derry make SEVEN changes in personnel, additional spice has been added to the fixture.
For Brandywell boss, Stephen Kenny, that win was impressive and while he didn’t wish to dwell on a game that was now consigned to history, he did agree that the victory certainly didn’t do his side any harm.
“To defeat a full strength Sligo team in a semi-final, having made so many changes, didn’t do us any harm at all. Squad players need game time and in that performance they certainly didn’t let themselves down.
“However, we now face a totally different challenge and rather than look back on the past, I’d much prefer to look at what we’ve achieved this year.
“We’ve been on a brilliant run - 13 league matches unbeaten. We are currently leading the Premier Division table having lost less games than any other team and we’ve scored more goals that any other team, so we’re at the top on merit,” insisted the Dubliner.
“We been playing fluent, attacking football. We are totally committed in what we are trying to achieve and we thoroughly deserve to be in the position we are in, thanks to the continued efforts of the playing staff who have been absolutely brilliant,” he added.
“A Fine Team”
However, he acknowledged the fact that Sligo were “a fine team” and having travelled to watch them defeat Monaghan United 4-0 at Gortakeegan on Wednesday night, the Derry boss agreed that his players would have to be “at themselves” if they were to take a positive result from a difficult venue this weekend.
“The are a fine team, with quite a few top quality players, so we’ll have to be vigilant. They have top centre-backs in Gavin Peers and Jason McGuinness, who regularly score goals from set-piece situations, so we’ll have to be at ourselves.
“But Sligo would admit that we are also a fine side, with quite a few top quality players as well and I’d much rather concentrate on us, rather than worry about Sligo.
“We’ve been performing very well in the third series of games and now as we enter the final series, it’s important that we continue to improve. We’ve been defending really well and it’s important that we maintain that at the Showgrounds this weekend.
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“I believe we’ve been disciplined in midfield and we have a cutting edge in the front line, so things have gone well for us and we’ve made great progress as a result,” noted Kenny.
“The players have shown tremendous spirit in every game they have played and collectively they’ve developed a great will to win, so they will need to show that again in this game.”
The Derry boss also refused to reflect back on the last time the sides met at the Showgrounds when Sligo recorded a 3-0 victory, Derry having had Eddie McCallion, Kevin Deery and Emmet Friars all red carded in a game which the “Candy Stripes” would prefer to forget.
That match, back on May 2nd, saw the Brandywell side lose their discipline with so many players booked, but Kenny pointed to his side’ disciplinary record this term.
Since then, that performance has been considered “a one-off” as Derry’s disciplinary record has been impressive given that in the other 26 matches, the local club has not seen one player sent off!
Farren returns to make Mark!
The return of striker, Mark Farren, has given everyone associated with the Brandywell club a great lift and the 29-year-old will be involved in the squad which travels to the west tomorrow morning.
However, given that Farren has not played a competitive game since the final game of last season in Monaghan, when he netted that vital goal which guaranteed his side promotion back to the top flight, it’s unlikely that he will feature from the start.
Delighted to see the player return to fitness, Kenny agreed that as part of the group, Mark’s presence would give his playing staff a lift.
“We have a great spirit within this group of players and we know we will have to perform to the best of our ability to get a result at the Showgrounds. But we’re capable of that. We want to maintain our winning run so we must travel to Sligo with confidence and try to win the game rather than adopt containing tactics.
“We showed in the League Cup semi-final that we are capable of scoring goals and when Stephen McLaughlin netted two superb strikes in that game, we were all given a great lift.
“Stephen showed us that he is capable of scoring different types of goals in that game and he’s also excellent in one-on-one situations. Equally, Patrick McElhinney has shown us what his is capable of over recent matches as he’s certainly pushed on and is determined to do well,” continued Kenny.
“It will be tight, there’s no doubt about that, so our ability to control the midfield area and pass the ball well will be very important. But we’re in good form, we’ve prepared well and we will travel with confidence but, at the same time, we will be fully committed and display a willingness to work hard for each other and see where that takes us,” he concluded.
On the team front, Gareth McGlynn remains sidelined with a knee injury, while Kevin Deery and Michael McCrudden have both been nursing ankle problems and both players will face fitness tests before this weekend’s kick-off.