Shamrock Rovers remain clear 'favourites' for league title insists Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins

RUAIDHRI Higgins claims reigning champions Shamrock Rovers remain clear 'favourites' to win this season's League of Ireland Premier Division title despite Derry City's incredible nine match unbeaten start.

The Brandywell Beckham . . . Will Patching celebrates with Cameron McJannet and Danny Lafferty after his 88th minute free-kick finds the top corner. Photo by Kevin Moore.
The Brandywell Beckham . . . Will Patching celebrates with Cameron McJannet and Danny Lafferty after his 88th minute free-kick finds the top corner. Photo by Kevin Moore.

The Candy Stripes restored their SIX points advantage at the top of the table with a 2-1 victory over rivals Finn Harps in Ballybofey - a sixth win on the bounce and third during eight productive days on the road!

After the first round of fixtures and a quarter of the way through the campaign, the Brandywell club has dropped just four points on that unbeaten run and City supporters are daring to dream about a first league title since 1997!

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Higgins was at Tolka Park on Friday night watching his next opponents Shelbourne lose to Shamrock Rovers late on thanks to a last-gasp Aaron Greene stunner and he reckons the Hoops are 'without a shadow of a doubt' the team to beat once again this year given their strength in depth.

"Shamrock Rovers, you look at who they bring off the bench and they, without a shadow of a doubt, are favourites to retain the league title," insisted Higgins. "We just need to try and keep this momentum going as far as we can and let's see where we go."

Having played every team once, the City supremo agrees his side have nothing to fear but doesn't want his players to get carried away at this early stage of the season.

"There isn't (anything to fear) but there are some really good teams. I was in Tolka Park last night watching Shelbourne. Shelbourne started the first half of the second half really, really good so we're in for a difficult game on Friday night. "

When asked if his team's start, which has garnered 23 points from a possible 27, has exceeded his own expectations, Higgins answered: "Of course it has. Twenty three points from 27 is a fantastic return.

"It's been an extremely good start and the players deserve all the credit and I am very, very proud of them but football has a habit of biting you in the backside whenever you get comfortable.

"So we don't want to get comfortable. We want to move on now and enjoy these big three points because that's what it was, a huge three points, and try to prepare to beat Shelbourne next week at the Brandywell."

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Derry's record against Harps under Higgins prior to Saturday's derby wasn't great with just one win from four league meetings in 2021. He lost his first match as City boss to Harps in his third match in charge so he was delighted to take the bragging rights from the first derby of the year.

"It's a brilliant victory. Your local rivals. We didn't pick up as many points against Finn Harps as we would've liked last year so to come here to win the first of four games against them was brilliant.

"I thought in the first half we had really good spells. On a bad pitch we played some really nice stuff in the first half. Second half was a terrible game. It was scrappy but I don't care. It was another piece of magic from Will Patching that got it over the line.

"The players deserved massive credit. We knew what type of game it was going to be. I thought the first half we played the way we like to play. Second half was just ugly but as I said, I don't really care. The players take absolutely huge credit from these last eight days. We just need to rock on now and pick up another three points next Friday."

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Cameron McJannet proved a real goalscoring threat last season with five goals and got off the mark with Derry's opening goal against Harps on 22 minutes at Finn Park.

Higgins explained afterwards the Englishman's bullet header from a Brandon Kavanagh corner was something the City centre backs have been working hard on with assistant boss Alan Reynolds on the training ground this week.

"'Renny' has been putting our centre backs under pressure to chip in with goals from set-pieces all week so that's obviously paid off as well

"Out of the seven games we've won I think we have showed that we can win in different ways. We've shows a capacity to win in different ways which is really pleasing. What it shows is the fight and character in the group.

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"It wasn't in injury time but another late goal. It gives the players real belief, no matter how the game is going that we can score late."

Filip Mihaljevic's 92nd minute penalty gave Harps a glimmer of hope they could claw something back in stoppage time and Higgins admits he was nervous in those final moments of the match with such an important result within his grasp.

"I remember a game here last year (Sligo Rovers), I can't remember who it was against but Harps were 2-0 down in injury time and ended up drawing 2-2. So they have amazing character and I'm not going to lie, I was nervous for the last three or four minutes and we put ourselves under pressure. It should've been a wee bit more comfortable than that.

"However, the last eight days we've got three away wins which is absolutely outstanding."

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