Ruaidhri Higgins urges Derry City players to leave everything on pitch at Oriel Park
RUAIDHRI Higgins has urged his Derry City players to ‘leave everything on the pitch’ at Oriel Park on Friday night and go for broke in the hope of clinching fourth position and potentially European qualification for 2022.
Casting our minds back to the beginning of a season engulfed in despair following a miserable winless run of six games, the transformation under Higgins has been stark as City end the campaign with renewed hope and optimism.
A significant upsurge in form, an almost 50% win ratio in the league, and 51 points from 29 matches so far has left Derry on the brink of a top four finish going into the final 90 minutes of football for 2021.
Qualification for next season’s Europa League Conference remains out of their hands as Derry must better Bohemians’ result against Sligo Rovers on Friday and then hope St Patrick’s Athletic defeat the Gypsies in the FAI Cup Final showpiece at the end of the month.
Higgins, however, admitted he would’ve taken this scenario when he took the reigns back in April and regardless of how the season concludes at his former stomping ground tonight, he can view his first season in management as a success.
With ‘nothing to lose’ and everything to gain in their final match of the season, he has challenged his players to ‘give it everything’.
“There’s loads to play for but it’s out of our hands,” said the Derry boss. “We need to go there, focus and try and win the game in a really difficult venue and not look elsewhere. We need to focus on ourselves. We’ve shown a really good consistency over the last six months or so.
“We’ve got 90 minutes left of the season and it’s important we leave everything out on the pitch. That’s all you can ask for really, that if we don’t achieve fourth position then we’ve given it everything we possibly can to try and do it.”
“It’s been a good points return over the last number of months,” he reflected. “If we get fourth, great. If we don’t then the players have given everything and deserve huge credit. It’s been positive. We’ve got a really good response out of the players but the staff don’t cross the white line. The players do that and they’ve accepted responsibility and drove it on.”
Friday's match will be Higgins’ 30th league game as Derry manager. He’s won 13 of those, drawn 10 and lost six. So 23 games unbeaten this season so far and he takes his charges into the final game in top form after a superb 2-0 win over Sligo Rovers last week.
There’s been a dramatic transformation in the mood at Dundalk this week, however, and with the new owners, a local consortium led by former owner Andy Connolly and sports technology firm, Statsports, now at the helm, there’s expected to be a celebratory atmosphere at Oriel.
On the back of three straight league wins and seven consecutive home victories in all competitions, Dundalk go into the game on form and Higgins expects a tough encounter.
“Dundalk have been good recently. Regardless of league positions, they still have some of the best players in the country and I think their recent form has shown that. It’s been very close and it hasn’t surprised me that Dundalk have put a good run together because they’re very capable and have a really good squad of players there.
“I actually know Andy Connolly personally and I know his brother Martin well. One thing for sure is that they have the club at heart. They’re massive Dundalk fans and they’ll try to run the club to the best of their ability. I’m sure the Dundalk supporters are delighted with that.
“It will probably feel more like the Dundalk of old again. I’m delighted because there are great people down there and I think everyone associated with that club will be delighted with the change.
“But our players are in great form. We have 90 minutes left. We have nothing to lose so let’s have a crack and see where it leaves us.”