Playing conservatively doesn’t seem to be in the Limavady man’s coaching handbook as Higgins’ team continues to produce an exciting brand of front-foot football and, as the league’s top scorers, average more than two goals a game.
That statistic has been greatly enhanced by the last two performances against UCD (7-1) and St Patrick’s Athletic (4-0) which have produced a remarkable 11 goal return, not to mention two disallowed Jamie McGonigle strikes on Friday night!
Friday night’s devastating dismantling of St Pat’s was the most impressive attacking performance so far, a flawless display Higgins described as ‘complete as can be’ and ‘definitely the best since I’ve been manager’.
It certainly reinforced Derry’s title credentials as they moved three points clear of champions Shamrock Rovers who dropped two points away to 10 man Sligo Rovers.
At Richmond Park Derry stunned their opponents into submission as they went for the jugular from the first whistle and ended the game as a contest with three goals in the opening 42 minutes.
Matty Smith poked the ball home from close range for his first Derry goal against his former club on four minutes and McGonigle added a brace as the visitors put the game beyond the Dubliners at the interval.
Cameron Dummigan put the icing on the cake with a sensational strike from distance early in the second half but it was that opening 45 minutes which did the damage against a team which previously boasted the meanest defence in the league.
“I think even before Matty’s goal, from minute one, we were aggressive and on the front foot and it paid off,” reflected Higgins. “It’s risky sometimes when you come to these places and try to be that aggressive because they’re a good side. Tonight it paid off, sometimes it doesn’t.
“From minute one I thought we were really, really good and hungry. To be honest I kind of sensed it a bit with the atmosphere in the dressing room before the game. The players here and the staff, their appetite to win football matches is brilliant.
“Our first half performance was definitely the best since I’ve been manager, it was really outstanding.”
It was an explosive attacking display from the visitors but that’s not to say they neglected their defensive duties. In fact Friday night’s emphatic win was built on a foundation of hard work and a determination to keep a clean sheet - a key trait for any successful team!
“You could see how much they wanted to keep a clean sheet,” said Higgins. “Any successful team I’ve ever come across has always kept clean sheets. So we intend to start keeping as many clean sheets as we can and keep our attacking intent as well.”
Three goals to the good at half-time, it would be natural to take the foot off the gas or form a defensive block but Higgins isn’t that type of manager and it doesn’t appear to be in his team’s DNA either.
“The message (at half-time) was ‘we can’t retreat’,” he explained. “I don’t think we can play that way. I don’t think it suits the personnel we have. We can’t retreat, we can’t drop off the game. We have to play on the frontfoot. That’s what we encourage and that’s what we got.
“We had a large part of the work done at half-time but we also sent the message out that if they get an early goal they’re back in it and the crowd will get up so it was important we managed the first 10 minutes of the second half well.”
St Pat’s, billed as one of the pre-season title favourites, would’ve seen the game as an opportunity to close the gap on Derry to four points but instead they trail by 10 with 13 games gone after two defeats to Higgins’ troops so far.
The result lay down a marker in the title race but while Higgins enjoyed the win, he isn’t getting carried away.
“It’s a huge victory against a really good side. The first half performance in particular was as complete as can be. One thing we haven’t done when it has been going well or when it hasn’t been going well, we haven’t got too high or never got too low. So it’s important we stay grounded and kick on.
“It’s a big three points and we sent our supporters home happy. They can be delighted with our performance, we’re delighted with our performance but next Friday comes very quickly so we’ll start preparing for Bohemians.
“When St Pat’s come to Brandywell in 10 days time they will look to try and reverse this as well. We know we will get a reaction from them. But we have Bohemians first to look after. The next run of fixtures are very difficult but it’s a good start.”