'It's a really proud moment for me being manager of Derry City': Ruaidhri Higgins
A 'PROUD' Ruaidhri Higgins admitted he became emotional taking his place on the touchline against Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds after a whirlwind 24 hours and hopes Derry City's victory is the beginning of a 'really successful journey' for the club.
The 36 year-old Limavady man, who made 289 appearances for the Brandywell outfit during nine years on Foyleside, kick-started his managerial career and Derry's season by guiding the team to a priceless 1-0 win against the previously unbeaten Bit O'Red on their home patch.
Will Patching's 50th minute penalty was enough to separate the sides in a game which Higgins admitted 'wasn't a classic' but it ended a miserable run of 183 days without a victory.
"I was actually very emotional before the game started, standing in the technical area but that soon goes when the game starts and you get stuck into it," said the new Derry boss. "It's a really proud moment for me being manager of this football club and I hope we go on a really successful journey.
"I'm delighted," he added. "Genuinely, to a man, I couldn't ask any more from them. And in such a short space of time they took on instruction very, very quickly. Obviously there weren't many chances in the game either end and we limited them to very few chances. So defensively I was delighted with it. From an attacking sense, we will work and improve in that end of the pitch.
"Sligo Rovers' front four have been the key to everything they've done and we managed to nullify that which is great credit to the players. We knew that if you're to come here and win you need to be good defensively so that's what we were tonight and we got our rewards.
"A clean sheet is massive for the players. When you win a game it brings confidence and then performances improve from that. Defensively we were really really good and we will get better going forward. It wasn't a classic," he admitted. "I hope going forward our attacking play and possession of the ball gets better and it will get better. I'm absolutely delighted with them and they deserved it. Hopefully now we can kick on."
Higgins had little time and just one training session to prepare for the game but praised the players for taking on instruction so quickly and he was delighted that they 'got what they deserved'.
"I see a lot of real good honest players but I also see a lot of talent and it was just a matter of getting a smile back on their faces. I was saying earlier, a lot of the young players have lost a manager for the very first time and it's strange when a manager walks out the door. So I was just trying to galvanise and get a smile back on their faces. Over the last 24 hours I was trying to put a structure in place and come here and try and win the game."
Defensively Derry were excellent, well organised, disciplined and they stifled a Sligo side which missed a chance to go level on points with Shamrock Rovers at the top. It was an encouraging team performance and while Higgins was reluctant to single out any individual for praise, it was difficult not to recognise the contributions of Cameron McJannet, Eoin Toal and Ciaron Harkin in particular.
Of course Patching, returning to the team after missing the 1-1 draw with Dundalk was also so influential and he cooly tucked away his spotkick which proved decisive.
"You have to build from the foundations up and I don't like singling people out but our two centre backs and the spine of the team, our two midfield players, were very, very good. Joe Thomson when he came on as well. But we had to put a structure on it defensively and try and limit their chances and we did that.
"It was really good game management particularly our midfield players and our two centre halves. For a young pair at centre back they showed real maturity and for me they are two of the best young players in the league and there's a really good balance between them. They showed real leadership tonight."
As a fan of his adopted hometown, Higgins had been keeping a close eye on Derry performances this season and he recognised the improvements and work ethic from the players and was confident it was only a matter of time before things clicked.
"I knew the win was coming because performances have got better over the last few weeks. I put a structure on it and hoped we could create something at the top end of the pitch and a wee bit of individual brilliance wins the freekick and 'Parky' uses his head and wins the penalty.
"That's great credit to the players for taking on instruction and they showed real bravery and character in the game. We knew one goal would win it and thankfully we got it.
"In the build-up to the free-kick where we won the penalty, Cameron McJannet plays an absolutely brilliant cross field pass to Will Fitzgerald and Will isolated the defender one v. one and won the free-kick and then (David) Parkhouse was clever to win the penalty, he got to the ball first and won us a penalty and then Wills tucked it away really well.
"It was going to be a moment like that in the game because there weren't many chances either end that would win the game. It was always going to be a setplay, a penalty or a bit of individual brilliance but I'm just delighted we came out on the right end of it."
It was Derry's first win on the road since early August 2020 and Higgins was delighted the pressure of getting that maiden win of the campaign has now been lifted off the shoulders of the players leading into next week's trip to Bohemians.
"I'm delighted for the players because it's been a tough period for them. I would expect that to give them real confidence and hopefully we can kick on from that. It's about building on that. We will analyse Bohs now this week and try to come up with a plan to go to Dalymount to win the game.
"We can get on the training pitch now and prepare and try to work towards winning that game next Friday. It gives me time to build relationships with the players and staff and get ourselves going."