DERRY City seek four league wins on the spin when they entertain Shelbourne at the Brandywell tonight and a victory would send the “Candy Stripes” into the mid-season break in a very happy frame of mind. (Kick-off: 7.45 p.m.)
ARTHUR DUFFY reports
Having taken just 15 points from his opening series of games, team boss Declan Devine, was not happy but, then again, predictably pointed to the injuries to key personnel.
However, since then, Devine has watched his troops take nine points from nine in their last three league outings and to take 12 points from four games would certainly see him pat his players on the back before they depart for seven days of vital rest.
“I was disappointed with our points tally from the first series but, without making excuses, we really were down to the bare bones in some matches. We actually performed so well against the more fashionable sides in the league and probably let ourselves down against teams we had been expected to defeat comfortably.
“But the important thing is the players have responded and bounced back to keep us well in the mix to challenge for the title,” declared Devine.
“Our exploits in the Setanta Sports Cup has extended our season. We’ve played no shortage of big matches and now with the break coming up, it’s vitally important that we use the rest period well and, at the same time, remain focused on what’s to come after a three week period without a competitive match,” he added.
While the players will now go off for seven days - some opting to go abroad - they will return to training the week after next to prepare for the match against Cork City at Turner’s Cross on Friday, June 22nd.
Devine refused to look beyond Shelbourne and having watched the ‘Reds’ overcome Bray in last Monday night’s FAI Cup replay which Shels won 1-0, the Derry boss is confident his side can avenge his first defeat as manager in Tolka Park last March.
“There are very few teams in this league who are capable of going on successive winning runs,” he contined. “This league does not normally allow that, but we’ve done really well to play our way back into contention and having won three league matches on the spin, I think it would give us a real boost to go off on holiday on a winning note.
“Victories like that can mean so much and it will also help our players relax as they have been flogged out over the past few months, so rest now comes a major player and it’s important that we use the time off properly.”
Look forward to this evening’s game, Devine refused to take anything for granted but he continued to feel peeved at the nature of his opening defeat.
“We lost 1-0 to a very sloppy goal having failed to take advantage of the scoring chances we created. Patrick McEleney drove a 30 yard free-kick to the net but the referee ruled that the ball did not cross the line. Since then, the same referee has apologised to me, agreeing that Patrick had, indeed, scored when he watched the highlights on television.
“In addition, Rory Patterson was sent off during the latter stages of the same match and the referee also admitted to me that the player shouldn’t have been sent off having watched the highlights of the game.
“I suppose it was good of him to admit his mistakes and I’m the first to realise we all make them, but it didn’t make me feel any happier as I don’t believe we deserved to lose that game.
“We certainly didn’t play to the best of our ability, make no mistake about that, but I really didn’t think we deserved to lose after having a legitimate game disallowed and then a player red carded when he really shouldn’t have been. Hopefully, such decisions will even themselves out in future games, but it can be hard to take.”
Tonight’s fixture, of course, is a totally different ball game with the big Brandywell pitch sure to test the fitness levels of both sides.
“We feel we must improve on our home form but we have defeated some good sides at the Brandywell. Losing to St. Pat’s and Dundalk, and having been held by UCD, has been hard to take but we’re more confident these days and the players are all pulling in the one direction.
“We have to start games well at the Brandywell, we haven’t been doing that and it can be worrying. In this league we can’t afford to give any side an advantage as we’ve had to play catch-up on a number of occasions and that makes matters difficult with teams parking the bus along the edge of their 18 yard line.
“But we do have the players to cause Shelbourne problems and I’m hopeful the lads will put in a good performance before they set off, that’s what they want to do,” maintained Devine.
One player who will have already started his rest programme is young centre-back, Ryan McBride, who must sit out tonight’s game due to a one match suspension while skipper, Kevin Deery and centre-back, Stewart Greacen, also remain in the treatment room.
“Eddie McCallion returns to the back four and brings great experience to the table, so I’ve no problems in that regard. But Mark Farren will have a fitness test before any decision is made on his availability. If Mark is not 100 per cent, then I’ve no intention of risking him as I want to have as many bodies as possible back and ready for a league challenge in three weeks time.
“Owen Morrison has trained well this week, as has Patrick McEleney, and I think our fitness levels have stood us in good stead, particularly at home. We’ve started to finish games very strongly over recent weeks and that’s to be welcomed. We’re also scoring plenty of goals but we do have to tighten up defensively and, as I’ve said, try to stop giving other teams easy starts against us.”