Dundalk defeat 'just a bump in the road' for Derry City
RUAIDHRI HIGGINS described Derry City's first defeat in nine games as 'just a bump in the road' and challenged his team to respond by putting another unbeaten run together.
The City boss returned to one of his former stomping grounds at Oriel Park with the chance to open up a four point gap on Vinny Perth's side, however, after a 'disappointing' first half showing and the concession of an early second half penalty the Candy Stripes left Co. Louth two points behind Dundalk who leapfrogged them into sixth.
Higgins' team failed to come out of the traps in the first half and deservedly found themselves behind at the break after Daniel Kelly's close range strike. The Limavady man reckons the opening 45 minutes was the 'most disappointing' since he's returned to the club as the visitors ultimately left themselves with too much to do.
Eoin Toal's header on the hour mark gave Derry hope and having garnered nine points from losing positions so far this season, the team's trademark comeback looked on such was their second half dominance.
The transformation was largely down to Higgins' brave half-time substitutions, with Ciaran Coll and Darren Cole replacing David Parkhouse and Jack Malone, and a change from a 4-4-2 formation to an attacking 3-5-2 with Will Fitzgerald and James Akintunde leading the line.
Higgins felt if the game went on for a further four or five minutes they could've extended their unbeaten run to nine games, however, he felt they shipped too much damage from that lacklustre first half display.
"I'm disappointed," said the City manager. "First half we gave ourselves a mountain to climb. It was probably the most disappointing 45 minutes since I've been at the club," he claimed.
"We were too passive. We didn't have any of the values that we've had in any of the previous games which was disappointing. But in the second half we probably showed more of what we're really about."
"We responded in the way that we did and got ourselves back into the game. We looked like we were the team in the ascendancy for the last 20 or 25 minutes and looked like we could nick something from the game. But it goes back to our first half performance and you can't have 45 minutes like that and come to a place like this and expect to win the game.
"We were the dominant team in the second half and we went to a back three. We were just more powerful and got into better areas of the pitch and created more chances off the back of it. It was two halves. First half was really disappointed. Second half more like us.
"We had all the pressure and all the ball and they retreated to the edge of their own box. Listen, we just couldn't get it over the line but we gave ourselves a bit too much to do."
Substitute Darren Cole was penalised for handling the ball inside his own penalty area 10 minutes into the second half - a decision Higgins felt Derry wouldn't have got if roles were reversed.
"It did hit his hand but he was very, very close to where the ball was kicked so it's hard to get out of the way. They're saying it's an unnatural position but I think it's very hard for him to get out of the way.
"I think if it's roles were reversed we might not get the penalty. They (Dundalk) are past masters at it. They seem to get a lot of decisions and we don't. Sometimes we don't even get blatant ones. It didn't surprise me that he gave the penalty."
At the midway point of the season with 18 games played, 12 of those under Higgins, Derry find themselves in seventh place on 22 points. So how does the Derry boss assess what he's seen so far?
"When I came into the job we were in a really really difficult spot," he said. "A really difficult position and I think the points return has been good, really good in fact considering where we were.
"This is just a bump in the road and it's about how we react and recover. We need to come in this week with a smile on our faces and be ready to go again and try to put another run together."
The performance of his skipper Eoin Toal on the night will certainly have put a smile on Higgins' face. His goal aside, the defender's towering display drew plenty of plaudits particularly for his magnificent recovering tackle to deny Michael Duffy a third Dundalk goal in the second half.
Considering the Armagh man wasn't expected to fit to play the game due to a hip injury, it was a significant contribution from the City captain.
"I thought Eoin Toal was absolutely exceptional tonight as was Cameron McJannet in my opinion and I think the two of them, for being such young lads, they led by example and showed the real leadership they have.
"They are two tremendous young players and we're delighted to have them here."
The introduction of young striker Patrick Ferry also added an extra impetus in Derry's attack in Higgins' final throw of the dice in the latter stages and the Derry boss was suitably impressed.
"He's sharp around the box and knows where the net is. He's a kid and still has a lot to learn but when things drop to him in and around the box then he's cool and he's a really good finisher off both feet so he has a bright future in the game if he keeps working hard and doing all the right things."
With the July Transfer window opening on Thursday Higgins is expecting to make 'one or two' new additions but the former midfielder insists there won't be major surgery'.
'We're working away in the background and as I've said before, this window is a difficult window especially if you're looking for players with League of Ireland experience.
"There might be one or two coming in but there won't be major surgery. Whoever comes in will be to just give us more strength in numbers and try to reenergise the group."