Rory Patterson played 70 minutes for Derry City against Shelbourne upon returning from injury. It was his first competitive game in quite a while - the striker had remarkably not played since the 3-0 home loss against Drogheda United in June – and it showed. It wasn't that he was particularly poor, but rather that he was not sharp, which is to be expected. On his day, Patterson is one of the finest goalscorers in Ireland, but he has not been able to rekindle the scintillating form that earned him a move to Plymouth in 2010.
The reason for that is simple: he has been playing with injuries, returning to the fold when he is not 100 per cent. The inclusion of Patterson for the FAI Cup semi-final game against Shelbourne was justified by Declan Devine prior to the game, who expressed the belief that “big players are needed for big games” but Patterson's frustration eclipsed his overall contribution and yet again he picked up a needless yellow card. While the return of the Northern Ireland international is a welcome (if badly timed) boost, in truth, Derry looked a much more dangerous unit with Barry McNamee and Mark Farren on the pitch.
Ever since the departure of Danny Lafferty to Burnley, the Candystripes have been lacking at left back. Devine signed former Dungannon Swifts defender Dermot McCaffrey, a former Northern Ireland youth international who had been on the books at Hibernian, but the left back has been painfully inconsistent since his arrival at the Brandywell. Frankly, he is a weak link in the team and his decision making leaves a lot to be desired, but he is also capable of the odd inspirational pass, as evidenced by his exquisite cross for Davy McDaid's equalising goal.
Unfortunately for McCaffrey however, Lafferty is a difficult act to follow. In Lafferty, Derry possessed the best left-back in the League of Ireland, one who created goals and scored them, as well as doing his bit defensively and unsurprisingly, since making his move to the Championship, he has received senior international honours. Derry need more competition in this position, as harsh as it might sound, perhaps a replacement.
Dermot McCaffrey is not alone in terms of inconsistency. With the possible exception of Simon Madden, the entire defence is in dire need of improvement. At the end of the 2011 season, Derry had conceded just 23 goals in the league, possessing a mighty plus 40 goal difference. This season, with only a few games to go in the league, Devine's men have had their defence breached 34 times and in the first five minutes against Shelbourne, the defence was left in tatters allowing David Cassidy to strike first blood at the Brandywell. The habitually sturdy Stewart Greacen has suffered a number of injuries this year and it has obviously affected his game, while giant Shane McEleney was beaten too often in aerial duels by both Philly Hughes and Philly Gorman. Tough tackling Ryan McBride is probably the best centre back in the squad, but even he has had his moments this season.
The worth of Barry Molloy to Derry City was further emphasised yesterday when, upon his return from injury, he put in a midfield masterclass alongside Kevin Deery. In the second half especially, the former Derby County player demonstrated the unyielding energy and desire that is required of a midfielder. Molloy cut out Shelbourne attacks and instigated a number of attacking forays when he surged forward into the opposition half. Kevin Deery is an important player for Derry City but Molloy is a crucial cog in the machine. He is the epitome of an all-round midfielder and is certainly among the best midfielders in the league.
The late introduction of Barry McNamee against Shelbourne excited the Brandywell faithful and not without reason. The slight 20-year-old has no fear and plenty of ability, which he exhibited soon after coming on, with a series of one-twos that stripped open the Shels defence. He is the kind of player that wants to get on the ball and make things happen and along with the likes of Patrick McEleney, Stephen McLaughlin and Davy McDaid, McNamee is a prime example of the talent that is coming through at the club.