Hallelujah it's the Happy Mondays for Derry City

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THE quickfire turnaround in fixtures has been giving Ruaidhri Higgins the blues of late but it was a case of 'Happy Mondays' for the Derry City boss as his squad depth stood up to the test in their biggest home win of the season against Dundalk.

It's been more 'TGI Fridays' than 'Happy Mondays' for the Candy Stripes over the past 15 months but with the return of key players from injury and the use of unconventional frontmen - just like the aforementioned dance/indie rock band of the 80s and 90s – Higgins now appears to have the squad power to cope with these intense four day turnarounds.

Prior to the 3-0 victory over Dundalk, Monday night games at Brandywell this season have been spectacularly dull, both on the pitch and in the stands, and have resulted in defeats to both Shamrock Rovers (2-0) and Bohemians (1-0).

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Several factors may be at work here including the financial impact on fans attending successive home matches over a 72 hours period and perhaps work commitments making a dent in the attendance. Football acts as a release from the stresses and strains of the real world at the end of a long week but on a Monday night, with the working week ahead, it rarely translates.

Players could potentially feel jaded after a big effort the previous Friday night and the apathy, or rather subdued atmosphere, in the stands is transmitted to the players on the pitch.

Whatever the reasons, Derry had failed to replicate the same intensity shown on Fridays during the Monday games. It's been a real concern for the City boss who has been examining the reasons behind why his team have struggled to put back-to-back wins together during the quick transitions which populate a congested fixture schedule.

He made four changes from the team which won 1-0 against Bohemians at Dalymount last Friday and it had the desired effect as Higgins claimed he 'learned lessons'.

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"We have to learn from the previous two Monday nights at Brandywell where we were flat," he pointed out. "We made four changes and I felt we looked really fresh."

Derry City go marching on after a third straight victory last Monday night. Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2320GS – 44Derry City go marching on after a third straight victory last Monday night. Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2320GS – 44
Derry City go marching on after a third straight victory last Monday night. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2320GS – 44

The City supremo believes those Monday night matches have 'cost us' in the past and he's keen to rectify that. It was a similar story last season with too many dropped points in Monday night games, particularly at home.

Derry defeated Shamrock Rovers 2-1 on Foyleside on Friday, February 25th and the following Monday were held scoreless by Sligo Rovers. In fact Derry won just ONE of five Monday night matches on Foyleside in 2022, drawing FOUR including a stalemate against the Bit O'Red on October 24th which ultimately ended any chances of catching Rovers in the title race.

On the road Derry fared better on a Monday with wins against UCD and Shelbourne and a defeat to Sligo Rovers, a stat which could open a can of worms in terms of the club's away form compared to performances at Brandywell.

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Monday's win, and the four changes in personnel, showed the importance of strength in depth and the performances of goalscorers Brandon Kavanagh and Jordan McEneff in particular highlighted the quality within the City ranks.

Adam O'Reilly celebrates with goalscorer Michael Duffy who put Derry City 3-0 up at Brandywell against his former club Dundalk. Photograph by Kevin MooreAdam O'Reilly celebrates with goalscorer Michael Duffy who put Derry City 3-0 up at Brandywell against his former club Dundalk. Photograph by Kevin Moore
Adam O'Reilly celebrates with goalscorer Michael Duffy who put Derry City 3-0 up at Brandywell against his former club Dundalk. Photograph by Kevin Moore

"It was pivotal (being able to make four changes)," claimed Higgins. "It was really, really important. We put on such a good display here against St Pat's (in a 2-0 win a fortnight ago) and basically put the same team out again (against Shamrock Rovers in a 2-0 defeat the following Monday) and we were flat and lethargic so we had to learn from that.

"As much as you're tempted to go with the same team after a good performance, we've got good quality in there so Friday, Monday are really important.

"Over the last year to 15 months we haven't been good enough on Monday nights and it's cost us so we have to learn our lessons and tonight we freshened it up. We made some changes with 20 or 25 minutes to go as well to make sure we rammed it home."

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The 3-0 win makes it five wins out of their last six fixtures, three wins and three clean sheets on the bounce. Higgins felt his team needed to be patient to reach the stage where he has enough depth in the squad to cope with the congested calendar.

Ruaidhrí Higgins greets Dundalk manager Stephen O’Donnell before the big game, at Brandywell Stadium, on Monday evening. Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2320GS – 49Ruaidhrí Higgins greets Dundalk manager Stephen O’Donnell before the big game, at Brandywell Stadium, on Monday evening. Photo: George Sweeney.  DER2320GS – 49
Ruaidhrí Higgins greets Dundalk manager Stephen O’Donnell before the big game, at Brandywell Stadium, on Monday evening. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2320GS – 49

And suddenly the team began reaping its rewards as they now go in search of a nine points total in the space of seven days when they entertain bottom club UCD on Friday.

"We showed that our squad depth is coming right back. It's great to get (Cameron) Dummigan back on the pitch again so there's good numbers, good depth and good quality and if we keep the right mentality, which I'm sure we will, then we can go from strength to strength."

The morale boosting win over a Dundalk side who were seeking a fifth straight win also put an end to some of the question marks hanging over Derry's home form. It was a third home win of the season and proved they can perform to the highest standard on the controversial artificial surface.

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"You all keep reminding me every time you ask me questions," said Higgins when asked how he felt to consign talk of that 'Brandywell hoodoo' to the history books. "You all love that. No matter who we play or where we play we want to win the game.

"The difference tonight was probably when we went in front we tried to get the next goal and it was really important we did that because you saw in Dalymount Park, we were dominant in the first half, should've put the game to bed. We've learned our lesson and took our chances tonight when we got them."