Ruaidhri Higgins praises 'gutsy' Derry City but he's not getting carried away with victory over Shamrock Rovers
RUAIDHRI Higgins is careful not to get too carried away with Friday night's stunning victory over champions Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght.
Derry moved five points clear of Rovers and onto the top of the table with the 2-1 win which ended the Dubliners' long standing unbeaten record at their home ground. It was their first defeat in Tallaght since May 2021 when they lost to Sligo Rovers!
With 7,626 in attendance it was the sweetest of victories for Higgins' troops who were forced to dig deep to see out the final 10 minutes of the match when Rovers laid siege to their goalmouth in front of the newly built fourth stand at the impressive south Dublin stadium.
Rovers remain without a win from their opening three league matches but as much as he was delighted with Derry's first win in Tallaght in 10 attempts - their last win coming six years ago in August 2017 - Higgins has been in this position before.
Indeed, Derry raced into a handsome lead at the top of the table after a blistering start to the 2022 season, winning seven and drawing two of their opening nine fixtures before losing to Shelbourne.
Jamie McGonigle netted a late winner against Rovers at Brandywell during that fantastic run, but the Hoops soon clawed back the gap at the top of the table and eventually romped home to be crowned champions for a third season in succession.
Therefore Higgins has good reason to be cautious about celebrating what was a significant blow on their league title rivals at this early juncture.
"We had a bit of a gap on them early in the season last year as well," he reminded the gathered press in the post-match media scrum on the Tallaght pitch afterwards.
"We started the season brilliantly last year as well but it's important we don't get carried away. It's three points, that's all it is. We made a good start to the season and we just need to bounce into Monday because there's no point coming here and winning if we don't back it up on Monday."
"We've no time to dwell on it, we have to go to UCD and pick up another three points and that's what we have to do."
Understandable reaction but the result and the performance against the champions deserves dwelling on. That's two wins from the two head-to-heads with Rovers so far this season including the dominant President's Cup victory at Brandywell.
While they needed to literally throw their bodies on the line at times, it was a gutsy display and the two goals scored were worthy of the win.
"It's a brilliant win, a really, really good win," agreed Higgins. "They're the champions, three times in a row for a reason. You're going to come under sustained periods of pressure but I felt by and large we dealt with it really well and looked a threat going the other way. It was a sublime goal that won it. We found a way to win which is really pleasing."
Derry were under the cosh for large periods as Rovers were running riot in the middle of the park and Neil Farrugia and Trevor Clarke were giving Derry's fullbacks real problems. However, a quick counter attack handed Derry the impetus against the run of play as Will Patching's brilliant crossfield pass found Ben Doherty who turned on the afterburners to race in behind the Rovers defence before finishing expertly into the corner.
That lead lasted just nine minutes as Celtic loanee Johnny Kenny blasted into the roof the net to bring Rovers deservedly level.
McGonigle then took centre stage just short of the hour mark when he swept home Ryan Graydon's cross from the right in an almost replica of his superb FAI Cup Final goal. Again Patching was pivotal in the move with an exquisite reverse pass which sent Graydon into space on the wing.
Derry rode their luck at times but that mattered little in the end as they gleefully went back up the road with three points intact.
So what was the key to victory in the end?
"Guts," he answered. "We asked for a wee bit more courage at half-time. I felt we gave up possession too easily in the first half which isn't like us. We definitely played with more courage and belief."
Higgins made a tactical change in the second half which gave Derry more control in the middle of the park as Ollie O'Neill moved into a central position beside Patching with Sadou Diallo and the impressive Patrick McEleney in behind. Later in the game Patching moved alongside McEleney as Jordan McEneff came on to replace Diallo.
"We made a slight tactical change just to get a hold of the game and more control and get more bodies in central areas in the areas they can hurt you. We've done it before and the players know what to do when we make that change.
"We went to a back three to see out the last 10 minutes with (Ciaran) Coll, Shane McEleney and (Mark) Connolly, three really experienced players and Patrick in a central area so we had good experience in the right areas of the pitch.
"To come here and win, I don't think Rovers lost a home game last season, so to come here and beat them is a brilliant result."
Asked whether he felt it was a 'statement win' Higgins was quick to play down the significance of the result.
"It's too early to be talking about statement wins. It's a big win. We've gone away to Pats, away to Shamrock Rovers and home to Cork and we've taken seven points, it's a great start but that's all it is."