A REJUVENATED Rory Patterson isn’t surprised by Derry City’s outstanding start to the Premier Division campaign, insisting the team’s work ethic and fitness, forged by Kenny Shiels, is the key to their early season success.
The striker, who took his season’s tally to five goals from seven games with a second half penalty in the 3-0 dismantling of Shamrock Rovers, was simply unplayable on the night.
And he believes the club’s superior fitness levels, determination and desire has given the club an extra edge on their opponents.
It was a near perfect team effort on Friday night but the Strabane man was, once again, one of the stand-out performers with his work rate and dogged determination giving the Rovers’ defence a real headache. So much so that Pat Fenlon was forced to replace centre half, David O’Connor, with David Webster at the interval.
Patterson put the finishing touches to a magnificent win for City with a 59th minute penalty after also winning the spot-kick by drawing the foul from Max Blanchard.
“I know Rovers weren’t happy with it but, in my eyes, it was a blatant penalty,” said Patterson. “He wasn’t looking at the ball, he was looking at me. As I swung to hit it, he just pulled me down.”
The one thing that is deeply instilled in us is hard work. It’s been the manager’s ethos since he came in. We know we’re not blessed with all the top players in the league. There’s a lot of average Joes from humble backgrounds.Rory Patterson
And, on another day, he could have bagged a hat-trick, with two goals disallowed after marginal offside decisions, while his cheeky lob was desperately clawed from beneath the crossbar by Barry Murphy in the first half.
Patterson’s energy, pressing and ability to hold up the ball was key on the night as the Rovers’ defence just couldn’t get to grips with the intensity of the Derry attacks.
The 31 year-old puts the club’s current form down to the fitness work supervised by the club’s backroom staff and he’s taken great pleasure in proving wrong those pundits who had tipped the ‘Candy Stripes’ for the drop pre-season.
And the demolition job on Rovers, which took City top of the table, was yet another indication Shiels’ team was written off prematurely.
“The one thing that is deeply instilled in us is hard work,” said Patterson. “It’s been the manager’s ethos since he came in. We know we’re not blessed with all the top players in the league. There’s a lot of average Joes from humble backgrounds. We’re not thinking we’re better than anyone else.
“But we have people in the team like Ryan McBride who will head and kick balls all day long and Gerard (Doherty) who is probably the best keeper in the league, in my eyes.
“In midfield, we’re hard working and, then, we have boys who can nick goals, so all the ingredients are there for a good team. It’s a good blend of young lads and experienced lads.”
And he reserved special praise for the in-form Barry McNamee who played a crucial role in the opening two goals.
“You have to give a lot of the praise to ‘Baz’,” said Patterson. “He makes my job a lot easier.
“The ball comes up to me and it’s my job to make it stick and the likes of ‘Baz’ found me loads of times against Rovers.
“He can see that pass. It was the same when we had ‘Fats’ (Patrick McEleney) in there, it was the same sort of role. So, obviously, I rely heavily on ‘Baz’ to set chances up but it’s the same with the likes of (Keith) Ward and whoever plays on the wings. That’s their job. Everyone knows their jobs and you just have to do it.
“If we continue to work hard, we’ll see where it takes us. Some games we’re going to have to grind out results.
“The pace we started at against Rovers and scoring after three minutes sets the tone for the rest of the game. Our tails were up and I don’t think there’s too many teams that will match us, fitness-wise.
“We heard a few people say we were looking ahead of ourselves. Obviously the fans are going to get carried away because of where we are but we know where we’re at. We’ll take one game at a time and try to consolidate our place in the top half of the table.”
So, like his manager, Patterson’s feet are planted firmly on the ground as he realises injuries and suspensions could yet derail their impressive start. But he admits the mood is good in the dressing room at present after proving they can match and even better the league’s big teams.
“You look at the start of the season and we were tipped to go down again,” said Patterson. “Then, after the result in Ballybofey, there was a lot of doom and gloom and it’s amazing what a couple of results can do for the dressing room.
“Some of the fans are running around saying we’re going to win the league but we’re not getting carried away with ourselves. We know there are a lot bigger teams with bigger squads and the true test will be if we get a few injuries or suspensions.
“All the ground work’s in place with the backroom staff who deal with the injury side of things and I don’t think anyone in the league has a better backroom staff in dealing with and preventing injuries.”
Derry began Friday’s game at a high tempo and intensity which had the Rovers defence rocking and they raced into a two goal lead through goals from Ronan Curtis - his second of the season - and a bullet Harry Monaghan header - his first for the club.
When the intensity faded slightly in the second half, the expected onslaught from a stunned Rovers side never materialised as this City side once again proved they can defend solidly as a unit with skipper, McBride, always in control. Gerard Doherty didn’t have a single shot to save throughout despite the abundance of individual talent in the Rovers attack.
Dangermen, Michael Drennan, Brandon Miele and Danny North, were totally ineffective on the night as Shiels once again got his tactics spot on.
Derry’s outright leadership of the table lasted just 24 hours as Dundalk’s big win over Longford put the Lilywhites on top on goal difference once again. But, with just four games remaining (Longford, Bohemians, Sligo and St Pat’s) before the first round of fixtures are completed, Shiels will be hoping his side can remain on the coat-tails of the champions.
Derry City: Gerard Doherty: Niclas Vemmelund, Ryan McBride, Aaron Barry (Patrick McClean 90), Dean Jarvis; Aaron McEneff Harry Monaghan; Ronan Curtis Barry McNamee (Conor McDermott 88), Keith Ward (Nathan Boyle 81); Rory Patterson; Subs Not Used - Shaun Patton, Jordan Allan, Gareth McFadden,Ryan Doherty.
Shamrock Rovers: Barry Murphy; Simon Madden, David O’Connor (David Webster h-t), Max Blanchard, Gavin Brennan; Brandon Miele, Patrick Cregg (Trevor Clarke 75); Michael Drennan, Gary McCabe, Killian Brennan; Danny North (Gareth McCafferty 65); Subs Not Used - Craig Hyland, Rob Cornwall, Richie Purdy, Stephen McPhail.
Referee: David McKeon.