Kenny Shiels predicts a five team race for the third European spot during the second half of the season and he’s desperate to go into the midseason break with a ‘pivotal’ victory over Galway United at Eamonn Deacy Park tonight. (Kick-off 7.45 p.m.)
The Derry boss this week confirmed his interest in bringing N. Ireland international Paddy McCourt back to Brandywell after holding informal talks with the Shantallow man.
And that sensational acquisition would provide a huge boost to the ‘Candy Stripes’ hopes of qualifying for European football.
Shiels’ side currently occupy that third place in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division after a comfortable win over Bray Wanderers at Brandywell last Sunday.
And the Derry manager is hoping his side can finish off what has been a remarkable first half of the season which has garnered 27 points from 14 league games, with a win over the Tribesmen.
Shiels named sixth place Galway among the five teams he felt would sustain a challenge for the European spot in the second half of the campaign.
It’s a very pivotal game. There’s Shamrock Rovers, Galway, St Pat’s, Derry City and I wouldn’t rule out Sligo just yet - those five are fighting for the third European spot.Kenny Shiels
And he expects Tommy Dunne’s troops, who relinquished a 1-0 lead in the 2-1 defeat at Brandywell back in March, to provide a stern test for his team.
“It’s a very pivotal game,” said Shiels. “There’s Shamrock Rovers, Galway, St Pat’s, Derry City and I wouldn’t rule out Sligo just yet - those five are fighting for the third European spot.
“I’m delighted we are one of them. Those are the five that are going to fight for it. We’ve all had our dips, although our dip wasn’t too bad.
“We lost three out of 18 which is really good. We had two draws in succession which were probably two of our better performances. And I don’t know how we didn’t win those games.
“We put the effort and commitment and if we get a wee break against Galway I’m really confident we can do well down there.
“There’s a freshness about us and we want to try and entertain our supporters as well as working hard to get a result. We want to see where that takes us because we’re sitting in third and we’re pleased with the direction we’re moving.”
Following a promising start to the season, Galway has experienced a forgettable past month having won just once in their last seven games. But Shiels is prepared for a physical battle.
“They have good players and Vinny Faherty is one of the best strikers in the league. He scores goals and he’s a strong boy. I watched them down at Bray there recently and they’re a good unit, a good team.”
Patterson back in action
Top striker, Rory Patterson trained with the squad yesterday morning and experience no ill effects having recovered from his hamstring injury sustained in Drogheda.
His return will provide a major boost for Shiels but with Nathan Boyle, who was on the scoresheet against Bray on Sunday and netted twice against Galway in March, in top form he may start on the bench if not fully fit.
Barry McNamee (illness), Gareth McGlynn (hamstring) and Harry Monaghan (knee) won’t make the game but are expected to return to action after the midseason break.
With young Josh Daniels and Aaron McEneff in terrific form at present, Shiels is confident his side have enough to go into the break on a high.
And with leaders Dundalk facing second placed Cork City, Shiels is hoping Derry can take advantage and close the gap with a win.
“We want to try and win as it could get us closer to the top. To achieve third position after 15 games is remarkable.
“Our players are on top of their game. I’m confident we can go down there and work as hard as we can.”