Wednesday 23 January 2019

Great result, but now we must give the champions a game!

David Goulden - The Red Zone

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of Sligo Rovers' season continued in Derry on Friday last as the Bit O'Red surprised us all with a solid, if unexpected win over the Candystripes.

On the front foot from the start, Rovers made the most of the continued patchy form of a Derry side who looked like they'd just lost interest.

In fact, it was the polar opposite performance from either side to the one that saw City beat Rovers at the Showgrounds in early April.

In that game, Sligo were lethargic, second to every ball, submissive while it didn't take us long to run out of ideas.

It was a case of roles reversed on our first visit to the new Brandywell. Our Henry Jekyl side came out on top although it's hard to know how much the result was down to Rovers' superiority than City's meagreness.

Let's be honest, it hasn't been an enthusing journey this season. A spate of poor and disjointed performances have only been compounded by a severe lack of creativity and clinicalness in front of goal.

So even though Derry had actually come into this game in worse form than Rovers having lost four of their previous five, even the most positive of supporter was hard push to envisage an away win.

But it happened. Cemented by a back five who although switched around due to injury and suspension, Rovers limited Derry's sight at goal.

Mitchell Beeney pulled off two or three smart saves as both supporters' confidence and his own continues to flourish.

Already without Regan Donelon and John Mahon, Rovers lost Gary Boylan to what could be a lengthy, if not season finishing knee injury. Boylan's ill-luck meant that with little option on the bench, Raff Cretaro's versatility was required once more.

Even in the dead heat, Cretaro's craft and willingness to work forward made a huge difference in countering Kenny Shiels' side. Plenty of opportunities arose from the Rovers right side with Kyle Callan-McFadden and Seamus Sharkey looking as solid at the heart of the defence as they did for the latter part of last season.

Derry did have a very short spell in the first half where they looked on top, but once Rovers dictated the pace, they came into their own. Key to this was the midfield pairing of David Cawley and Rhys McCabe.

Cawley was everywhere and put in arguably his best showing of 2018. Some going given how dominative he's been in that engine room all year.

Both men paired for Rovers' joyous opener when Cawley sprung the offside trap to latch on to McCabe's through ball.

Cawley taunting Ger Doherty, forcing him to land on his rear before rounding the Derry captain. Calmness personified, Cawley made a tricky skill look so, so easy.

For all the positives, I would still have marked concerns over the front four.

No Adam Morgan once more meant the role of the central attacker was shared between Lewis Morrison and Ali Roy, while Caolan McAleer and Adam Wixted shared wide berths.

There were some great passages of play between them but there were also times when a pass would go astray, a run not picked out or a risk not taken when there's space to be played in to.

You cannot expect perfection every time and these players are still learning but on another day, be it against Derry or otherwise, you will be picked off on the counter for lapses.

You feel bad for pointing out negatives when such a result is achieved but we've seen enough of this team to know and expect our flaws. But we can play football, it's just about consistency.

Ger Lyttle's decision to introduce Eduardo Pinceli mid-way through the second half was justified and only helped Rovers dictate and methodicalise play.

The Derry game done, it's time to be forgotten about and move on to Cork. Our home form in recent weeks, although tight at the back hasn't been worth the entry fee.

Cork will be firm favourites but Rovers must go at them and not sit in. The average supporter has suffered long enough watching less than mediocre football on the Church Hill turf.

Hopefully Friday's result will go a long way in dragging some of the supporters who have lost faith back to the Showgrounds.

Sligo Champion