Ruaidhri Higgins delighted as Derry City fans leave Brandywell 'with a smile on their faces'
RUAIDHRI HIGGINS felt it was important the partial Derry City attendance left Brandywell 'with a smile on their faces' on Friday night as the fans made their long awaited return to the venue.
And so the City boss was suitably delighted when substitute Marc Walsh popped up with a dramatic equaliser right at the death to send the Red and White army home happy and with a hard fought share of the spoils from an entertaining battle with Bohs.
"That was important," he said. "I wanted them to leave here with a smile on their face. I know we would've liked to have won the game but if you're not going to win it then maybe scoring a late equaliser is the way to send them home."
Higgins had hoped the 155 lucky supporters who returned to the ground after a 15 months Covid lockout would make up for lost time and raise the roof on the Southend Park stand but it wasn't just about the noise and it was refreshing to focus on the little things that make up a traditional Brandywell matchday night.
There was a glint in the eyes and a hint of a swagger from those chosen few supporters fortunate enough to be selected to purchase one of those in-demand e-tickets as they made their way one-by-one through the gates at the Showgrounds end.
It was almost a throwback to pre-Covid days had it not been for the mandatory temperature checks and disinfectant at the turnstiles as the fans did their best to look unmoved despite the swarm of local photographers documenting a landmark day for the club.
The sight of old friends catching up and the heart-warming gesture by Higgins to present a signed Derry City shirt at pitchside to five year-old fanatic Caleb Toland, who underwent major brain surgery last month, reinforced that connection between the football club and its community.
And the crowd kept their side of the bargain, or as much as the generous spacing between seats would allow them to, as they roused the home team and greeted the Candy Stripes with a high-decibel welcome as Higgins' troops made their way onto the pitch.
Those in attendance were treated to an entertaining clash between two of the in-form teams in the Premier Division and there was high drama fitting of the occasion.
Bohemians winger Ali Coote didn't read the script, however, and threatened to spoil the homecoming party with an 84th minute strike from 20 yards which crept under the diving arms of Nathan Gartside and into the corner for a goal which was met by a deafening silence.
Yet the biggest roar was kept for the final act and the chief protagonist. Step forward Marc Walsh who showed great spirit to battle back from a recurrent hamstring injury and even greater character to burst towards goal and fire Derry level with his first goal for the club in the 94th minute.
It was a dramatic finale befitting of the occasion and it sparked jubilant celebrations in the stands.
The result saw Derry leapfrog Dundalk into seventh spot as they made it six consecutive games unbeaten, suffering just one defeat in 10, however, while Higgins was delighted with the character shown by his team he was far from 'elated' with the performance.
"We're not elated by any stretch of the imagination. I'm slightly disappointed with our overall performance but I'm delighted we got something out of the game.
"It was a dramatic finish. That's a really good quality to have as a team. Even though I wasn't particularly pleased with our performance tonight, it's a really good quality to have to go right to the end and get something from the game that looked unlikely a few minutes previous."
That's twice this season Derry, under Higgins, have dealt a late sucker punch to Bohs having netted a stoppage time winner through Cameron McJannet at Dalymount back in April and Higgins reckons isn't surprised given the character and courage in his squad.
"I'm just delighted we have such a courageous team here and people who fight and go right to the bitter end. That's the most pleasing part from tonight.
"We've gone 10 down late enough in the game and then to keep going right until the end it's no surprise to me to be honest. I'm just delighted we've managed to nick a point out of it.
"It's the minimum requirement and in fairness to the players they bring it every single game. In my nine games here we've lost one, drew four and won four, so we've scored a lot of late goals and that's a really pleasing aspect for me."
Will Patching came so close to adding to his season's four goal tally with a terrific free-kick which was saved superbly by James Talbot in the first half and Higgins was adamant Ronan Boyce was brought down inside the penalty area by Anto Breslin and received the first yellow card of his managerial career for his protestations on the sidelines.
Bohs also hit the foot of the post and Boyce produced a stunning block before McJannet cleared off the line as the Gypsies pressed hard for a winner in the final stages.
The City boss must take credit for his attacking substitutions made in the final stages of the game as Will Fitzgerald, Jack Malone, who had a gilt-edged chance, and Walsh all made an impact. Particularly Donegal lad Walsh who Higgins felt had the 'explosive pace' and talent to make a difference.
"I just thought the game was very open and Marc's pace . . .Marc missed a lot of time out through injury so we have to be very careful with him. You can see he's got real explosive pace and talent but we have to be very careful with him and try and nurture him and give him a platform to try and fulfil his potential.
"He was brilliant down in Dalymount and it was in my head, sometimes Mark Farren used to score or do really, really well against Bohemians in particular and it was just fresh in my head that Marc turned the game down in Dalymount and I just thought I'd get him on the pitch, it's as simple as that."
Derry's first home win of the season continues to elude them but that's not a concern for Higgins or his team given recent performances and with the backing of an increased Brandywell support for the upcoming game against leaders Sligo Rovers, the next win could be the biggest so far!
"I've had four home games; we've drawn three and lost one so I'm not getting too caught up with the home form. What I am getting caught up with is the point return we've got which is a very good points return so I'm happy," insisted Higgins.