From relegation fodder to league leaders - Shiels happy to defy critics
KENNY SHIELS has been working hard on changing the mind-set of his players ahead of Saturday night's trip to Longford Town and he's hoping they can deal with carrying the favourites' tag for the first time this season.
So far, Derry City have thrived on being labelled underdogs and have spent the early part of the campaign proving both the doubters and the bookies wrong by upsetting the odds against the league’s ‘big hitters’.
Following a credible 1-1 draw against Dundalk at Oriel Park and a hugely impressive 3-0 home thrashing of Shamrock Rovers last weekend, City are expected to come away from the City Calling Stadium with three points without much problem.
However, Shiels has warned against complacency given that their last trip to Longford last October ended in a 4-2 home win - although it was a meaningless end of season affair - and he expects Tony Cousins’ side to make it a difficult night.
“We spoke to the players about having a different mind-set because we’re going in as favourites for the first time this season,” warned Shiels.
“Even for the match against Bray, they were considered slight favourites. But we’re definitely going in as favourites for the first time tomorrow night. So, fingers crossed, we don’t let that affect us.
“The team we’re playing can very easily turn us over, as history tells you. The last time we went there, we conceded four. So, we have to go with the right approach and make sure we don’t let complacency creep in.
“Longford have won away at Wexford and started off quite well. They’ve had a few injuries but there’s a lot of them coming back this week, I’m told.
“It will always be a tough fixture,” he predicted. “They’re battling for their lives, even at this early stage.
“They will make it difficult. Get in and around us and work hard but we’ve got to fight back and make sure we’re ready for that.”
The Derry City boss has gathered a selection of newspaper clippings - including pre-season predictions from League of Ireland pundits who had written his side off as relegation contenders before a ball was kicked this year - to use as a motivational tool for his players.
And, given City can open up a 15 points cushion on struggling Longford Town on Saturday with a win, Shiels feels it will be a ‘phenomenal’ achievement to be so far ahead of where they’re expected to be after eight games.
“We’re looking to try to move away from the bottom”, added the Derry boss.
“That was our first goal coming into the season - to get away from the relegation zone where we were tipped to be.
“Almost all of the media had us in the bottom three. We looked at all the papers and I stored them from the start of the season.
“Bray were 66/1 to win the league at the start of the season and Derry City were 150/1. So, as a relegation contender, victory on Saturday would leave us 15 points clear of the bottom.
“To be 15 points clear of the bottom after just eight games is phenomenal. So that’s our objective and that’s what we’re talking about going into the Longford game. Win here and we go 15 points clear of where we’re expected to be.”
Three games in six days
Derry’s trip to Longford is the first of three games in the space of six days as they entertain Sligo Rovers in the EA Sports Cup on Tuesday before welcoming Bohemians to Brandywell the following Friday night.
The temptation would be to reshuffle his pack for those games to keep things fresh but Shiels doesn’t have the luxury of a big squad and prefers continuity in his team selection.
So, although Conor McCormack returns from suspension this weekend, Shiels doesn’t plan on making too many changes to the team which thrashed Rovers last week.
“We did say it would take time to get to where we want to be. Hopefully, we can build on how we played against Rovers and sustain that style of play. We go into this game in a confident frame of mind. It would be nice to get an early goal but, if we don’t achieve that, we’ve got to be patient.
“We’ve got to rule out complacency in our approach to the game and manage the expectations which are rising all the time. We just have to go with a good attitude, a good dynamic, pass the ball well. Be patient in our build-up play and be aggressive in our movement and see where that takes us.”