KuPs a ‘step-up’ in class but there’s no inferiority complex at Derry City insists Ruaidhri Higgins
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KuPs, who entered the competition at the second round stage, are positioned 222 places above Derry City in Uefa's coefficient rankings having been involved in either the Champions League, Europa League or Europa Conference League qualifying stages for each of the past six seasons.
They have a decent pedigree in European competition, reaching the play-off stage in the Conference League in 2022 where they lost to German Bundesliga side Union Berlin.
While City boss Higgins acknowledges KuPs are a 'step-up' in class from first round opposition HB Torshavn, there's certainly no inferior complex on Foyleside ahead of their visit.
"They are a really good team," began Higgins. "We've done a lot of work on them obviously over the last few days. Without being disrespectful to Torshavn, they're definitely a step up.
"They have players that have been there and done it. They lost to Union Berlin in the playoffs two years ago and have had good results in Europe over the last number of years but I don't think they will be thrilled about drawing us either to be honest with you.
"I'd expect it to be a tough match for both sides and hopefully some of our matchwinners can put in a real performance and try and get us a positive result going over there.
"We're very well versed on what we're coming up against. We had Gerard Boyle out watching them last week. Gerard is brilliant on the game and really detailed and as staff we're well organised for this game. The players will be well organised and hopefully we can put in a big performance for the football club on Thursday night."
Higgins' opposite number Jani Honkavaara has also clearly done his homework on Derry City and he doesn't expect the tie to be decided at Brandywell tonight. And Higgins, who has been involved in some of the greatest nights the Candy Stripes have enjoyed on the continent, expects it to be a tightly contested affair.
"They're an extremely dynamic team. They've got good individual players. We obviously have a plan that we're working towards and that we feel will cause them problems so hopefully if we work towards that and be disciplined in what we're trying to achieve then we can get a big result. We know that over the course of the two games, this is a huge challenge but one we're ready for."
It's the finer details which will decide who progresses to a third round tie against either Switzerland's FC Basel or Tobol Kostanay of Kazakhstan.
"When you get to this level of European competition you're always worried about the strength of the opposition but I'm sure they will be concerned about some players that we have as well," added Higgins.
"If they come here and have a real go at us it could potentially suit us. We want to be positive but obviously not naive as well. It'll be a tactical game I'd imagine but it's over 180 minutes and we've got real experience in our team as well so it's something that really whets the appetite and let's see if we can produce a big night."
Against Riga last season at Brandywell, Derry were punished for switching off in key moments in the game and the tie was ultimately over before the return leg in Latvia. Higgins is determined to avoid a repeat.
"This level of game I think you have to be very tuned in. Every detail counts. Your match-ups around the middle of the pitch, you have to be switched on because without being disrespectful, there's one or two of these players who are maybe a level above what we're used to playing so you have to be tuned in, you have to be switched on for 95 minutes in each game.
"Personally I think it will be the finer details that wins us the game or loses us the game so we need to be fully focussed for the whole game. When we're having our periods when we're on top we have to make it count."
The Derry manager was tasked with improving on the club's European record which had ended at the first hurdle in their previous four attempts against Midtjylland, Dinamo Minsk, Riteriai and Riga. However, he refuted suggestions the pressure was now off having got through a round.
"I don't know that the pressure's off. No one puts more pressure on me than myself, that's for sure. Every game we play, we don't see this as a big underdog thing. We see this as a game we're capable of winning.
"We know the opposition is excellent. They're a really good team with really good individual players but we've got brilliant footballers as well who are ready for this stage and hopefully we can produce a big night.
"Regardless of the result we won't be giving up on anything but we want to win here. We've won three or four on the spin at home now and our home form has really gathered momentum and we want that to continue."
Adam O'Reilly returns to the squad following his suspension in the opening round and Higgins was giving little away about his team selection and whether skipper Patrick McEleney, who has been struggling with an Achilles injury, will start from the start.
City fans can expect to see the club's playmaker at some point and his experience, with almost 50 European games under his belt, will be crucial.
"Patrick has played nearly 50 games now in Europe so it's amazing having that amount of experience. Mickey (Duffy) has played a lot of games in Europe, Will Patching. We have players who have played a lot of football in Europe. People are asking why he's not playing and there's a reason we have to be very careful with him so it's a catch 22 but he's also one of the top players in the country so that experience is crucial but we'll see on Thursday night.
"He wants to make an impact. He wants to impact our season and at the minute he's doing that really well. He's a deep thinker of the game, he can see where the gaps are and then exploit them when he comes on. Listen, we'll see come Thursday night what the situation is."