James Akintunde relishing 'healthy competition' ahead of Derry City's Europa League tie
The 24 year-old former Cambridge United forward has made a significant impact since arriving last month and has already bagged two goals in just three appearances.
That’s the same amount of goals scored in 57 appearances for his last club, Maidenhead United where he played predominantly on the right wing but he’s shown a real eye for goal since joining the Candy Stripes.
Scoring on his debut in the 2-0 victory over St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park, Akintunde played through the pain barrier in the defeat to Shamrock Rovers before a toe injury ruled him out of the 1-1 draw against Shelbourne at Tolka Park.
The bustling striker, however, has made a timely return to full fitness and has played himself into contention for the Europa League qualifier against FK Riteriai in Vilnius tonight.
Coming off the bench to replace goalscorer Adam Hammill on the hour mark against Cork City, the Londoner made an instant impact and was denied by a smart save from Mark McNulty before eventually finding the back of the net in the fifth minute of stoppage time to settle the match.
Admittedly it hasn’t been the ‘ideal’ start to his City career in terms of managing injuries and getting up to speed with his fitness levels but he’s shown how big an asset he can be for Declan Devine’s side.
“It hasn’t been the ideal start for me with the quarantine and then picking up a couple of injuries but the staff and the medical team have been great,” said Akintunde.
“They did a few bits and bobs before the game to make sure that I was in good nick so I’m just happy I got on the field and played.”
Derry assistant manager, Kevin Deery felt Akintunde came on at the perfect time in the game.
“He had a great impact when he came on and that’s what we want,” said Deery. “He’s a cracking lad and he’s been unfortunate to have a toe injury which has kept him out for the past 10 days.
“He put himself forward for the Shamrock Rovers game when he wasn’t fully fit but he’s getting there now and we used him right against Cork. He came on and got us on the front foot right at the time when we needed that.”
With Cork pressing for an equaliser at the end it was a nervous finale for the home side but Akintunde showed nice feet on the edge of the penalty area and turned swiftly before burying his shot into the bottom corner past McNulty to rubber stamp the victory.
And he was delighted to get on the scoresheet again. “We went 1-0 down but we dug in, showed heart and it was good to come in and score a goal. I’ve been injured for the last couple of weeks so it was good to find the net.
“It was an early goal they got so we knew we had plenty of time to get back in the game. We just needed to keep playing, don’t rush it and eventually the chances would come. And they did come and it could’ve been more.
“I missed a chance about five minutes before the goal - the keeper pulled off a good save. For the goal I got the ball in the box, I turned it and just thought to hit it on target and thankfully it went in,” he smiled.
Ibrahim Meite has been hugely impressive since scoring on his debut against Shels and he hit the woodwork and was denied by a terrific save from McNulty on Friday night.
Akintunde knows he now faces a battle with the big striker for a place in the starting XI but it’s a challenge he’s relishing.
“Every week everyone is battling to get into the team and get a position because the team is so strong right now,” he said.
“The people coming in are doing well. I mean it’s good because it’s a challenge for everyone and it keeps everyone on top of their game.
“It’s a healthy competition with Ibrahim. I want to do well and so does he obviously. He hit the post and I was gutted for him because he did really well beating his man and it would’ve been a great goal.”
Tomorrow'’s match at the LFF Stadium represents Akintunde’s first match in European competition and he can’t wait to get a taste of the action.
“It’s a big game for all of us but definitely the biggest for me right now. I’m really looking forward to it.”