Ruaidhri Higgins targets home improvements for Derry City ahead of Brandywell double
RUAIDHRI Higgins is urging his Derry City players to turn up the heat at home if the Brandywell outfit are to mount another serious title charge this season.
After two impressive victories in the capital in the space of 72 hours, the league topping Candy Stripes face two consecutive home fixtures starting tonight with the visit of Dundalk (K.o. 7.45pm).
Derry dropped a total of 25 points on Foyleside last term compared to Shamrock Rovers' four points which ultimately proved a significant factor in the destination of the league title.
Higgins' charges won 10 matches on the road compared to just eight at Brandywell with seven draws costing the team vital points.
After a brilliant opening to the new season where they inflicted Rovers' first home defeat since 2021 it's a massive opportunity to turn the screw on the champions should they take maximum points from a Brandywell double before the international break.
Home form will be key this season and Higgins, who returns to the dugout following a family bereavement, agrees his team must make Brandywell a formidable place for the opposition.
"We need to go and take points going into the international break which could be good for us because it gives us a chance for players to return from the injuries they have," said the City boss.
"It's important we take points at home and really make this place really difficult to come to because you look at Shamrock Rovers' home form over the last number of years - it's been through the roof and we need to get somewhere close to that if we want to achieve anything."
Dundalk were the only team Derry failed to beat last season with two of the three home losses recorded by the Lilywhites (2-1 in May and 1-0 in November).
Despite their indifferent start the Lilywhites can go level on points with Derry with victory after two morale-boosting victories against St Pat's and Shelbourne. Higgins doesn't understand why Stephen O'Donnell's men have been seemingly written off in the title race and he expects an 'intense' encounter tonight.
"They're a smashing team, a really talented team," said Higgins. "For me, they will be right there at the end.”
"I think, again, and I said it last year and no one listened, and I can never get my head around why people think any different because they have players who have won league after league at their club and a sprinkling of young energetic players who are making their way in the league, similar to ourselves.
They're a top side and again, for me, they will be right there at the end.
"They have league winners and then young players who have serious ability. They've signed well again as they always do.
"They are always good games. Three of the games could've gone either way last year. All the games are extremely tight."
Of course there were contributing factors to that final day defeat as Sadou Diallo was sent off and Derry made a raft of changes as they looked ahead to the FAI Cup final.
“The most important thing in that game was trying not to get anyone sent off which we didn’t and trying to keep people fit for the cup final and spread the minutes out. We managed to achieve what we wanted apart from the result.
"This will be a different test. It will be a really intense game I feel and hopefully we can come out on top.
"We didn't beat them last year so we need to go and try and put that right and try and win here on Friday night and keep the momentum going.
“It’s only been four games so no-one is getting carried away. We don’t want to hide behind anything either though. We want to improve on last season and improving on that means a very real challenge to winning the title.
“We have the group of players here now to do that but we have to stay focused and try to build on a good start.”
Michael Duffy, Cameron McJannet, Cameron Dummigan, Colm Whelan and Ciaron Harkin have been ruled out but Adam O’Reilly could potentially make a return.
Crucially, Higgins doesn’t feel like he needs to rush any of his wounded back into action given the strength of his squad.
"Thankfully we have no fresh injuries but it’s unlikely we’ll add anyone to the panel that did so well across the last two matches.
"We’re getting there,” he added when asked if any of his injured players were nearing a return. “This time last year we maybe were rushing people back but I don't think there's any need to do that.
"This is a long season. Hopefully we have a lot of games and we're going to need everyone so we'll not be rushing anyone back."