KENNY SHIELS has labelled his injury stricken Derry City side 'fighters' and insists they will come back stronger after a devastating Europa League hammering at the hands of a rampant FC Midtjylland in Denmark.
The classy Danish Super Liga outfit are out of sight going into next Thursday's second leg in the Showgrounds in Sligo having inflicted Derry's biggest European defeat since they entered the League of Ireland in 1985 - a 9-1 defeat by Belgian club, Anderlect in the mid-60s remains City's heaviest loss on the continent.
It was always going to be an unenviable task for Shiels' depleted City side who were without mainstays, Conor McDermott (groin) and Barry McNamee (ankle) who were named on the bench to make up the numbers but were never in contention to play a part in the game.
Shiels had to reshuffle his defence with all four defenders playing out of position. And while he admitted the Danes were by far the superior team, he felt his side could have got more from the tie.
"We were depleted going into the game and we were playing with a back four who were all out of position," said the Derry boss. "It wasn't our fault - it was needs must. The depletion of players and not being able to play the ones we signed was a massive obstacle for us.
"These are not excuses but established reasons as to why. When you play a midfielder at right back, a midfielder at left back, a left back at left centre back, a left centre back at right centre back - all four of them were being played in uncomfortable positions. We didn't have a choice."
Shiels admitted he was concerned about how the match would unfold given his limited options due to a wafer-thin squad and his worst fears came to pass as Derry were picked off by the rampant Danish club.
"I was worried about this going into the game," he admitted. "I was worried about it when we lost Conor McDermott because we didn't have the balance or experience and it was proved to be right. It was an internal worry I had and I think that was borne out.
"We conceded again from set-pieces but the delivery was exceptionally good. It just killed the game tonight."
Despite the huge setback in Denmark, Shiels believes the experience will proveinvaluable for his younger players.
"I was very nearly feeling sorry for myself when I looked at what I had to deal with," said Shiels. "It wasn't easy for us when we had four subs on the bench including a goalkeeper sub. That's us scraping. Even the two lads who would normally come on to the bench couldn't travel as they're at school. We're fighters and we'll be back strong. This will do us a lot of good it will help us a lot."
One positive from the match was the performance of Republic of Ireland U21 international, Ronan Curtis who netted an away goal in the second half. He was also at the centre of a controversial decision at the start of the second half when he was brought down inside the penalty area - a foul which went unpunished.
"He was brilliant," said Shiels. "He was better than anything they had. He's playing well at the minute and I'm pleased with Ronan for his contribution and performance.
"Without a doubt we should have had a penalty. It was poor but we weren't going to win the game and if we had of got to 3-1 it would have caused a bit of nervousness from them. We had massive momentum at that time.
"I just couldn't believe he didn't give it. He was too honest he stayed on his feet. It was blatantly obvious it was a penalty. He did his best to stay up and that's a certain penalty.
"That's not the reason we got beat but it might have helped us narrow it to 3-1 with us on top at that time. The best team won. We just have to be ready for the next one. But the boys gave everything."