Belfast Telegraph

Football: French fancy

Tall order but not impossible against Paris St-Germain

By Peter Hutcheon

Derry City will have to cope without the element of surprise when they take on Paris St-Germain at the Brandywell on Thursday night.

Derry City will have to cope without the element of surprise when they take on Paris St-Germain at the Brandywell on Thursday night.

Arguably it was that factor which took them past a complacent Gothenburg in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Cup - although that's not to take away from their magnificent performances in Europe this season - before knocking out Scottish Cup Finalists Gretna.

There is no doubt that the Irish sides have moved up a gear when it comes to European competition but the French represent a more traditional test in that Derry enter the tie hoping initially to keep the score respectable.

In Portuguese World Cup star Pauleta they have a genuine world class striker and a great deal of manager Stephen Kenny's pre-match preparation will centre on keeping him at bay.

Here the lessons of Gothenburg will be crucial when the thoughtful Dubliner identified and worked out how to deal with the principal threat of the Swedes.

This time around it's a slightly different proposition with the home leg at the Brandywell first on Thursday evening.

Derry have based their success in the competition on upstaging their opponents in their own back yard and then holding on at home where they have yet to lose a game this season and only dropped their first points in the league there on Sunday in a goalless draw with UCD.

This time they will have to take a different approach and set out their stall to win the game. The riches they are so close to at the group stage of the competition are too big not to take a gamble or two in an attempt to win the tie over the two legs, difficult a proposition as that might be.

The French will know all about Derry, not least the threat they pose from set pieces from which the majority of their goals this season have come.

The particular strength of this Derry side is that virtually every man on the field is capable of scoring and has done so. The surprising exception so far has been Paddy McCourt, although the hamstring injury which has kept him sidelined for the best part of the last two months hasn't helped his cause.

He is desperate to play a part in this European run and there's no doubt that his direct attacking style of play can cause panic in event the best defences.

The question is whether or not Kenny decides to risk a player who on his day can cause havoc but who also has a maddening tendency to take on one defender too many and give away possession in promising positions.

Keeping the ball in the Paris half will be crucial to the outcome and bearing in mind that Kenny is likely to once again go with a five-man midfield and play Gary Beckett alone up front he may very well keep McCourt as a weapon to deploy as the game progesses.

It is his defence that Kenny will concentrate on first and he is still sweating on the fitness of his captain Peter Hutton who has been out now for three weeks with blood poisoning.

His partnership with Darren Kelly at the heart of the City back four has been outstanding and they are the first names on the teamsheet in an ideal world.

But Kenny does have more than adequate cover in that department with Ken Oman, Clive Delaney and Northern Ireland Under-21 international Mark McChrystal at his disposal.

Delaney made his first start of an injury-wrecked season in the midweek 3-0 League Cup semi-final win over Limerick and if Hutton doesn't make it, will be anxious to make the team.

But it's a very tough call for the manager as Oman has barely put a foot wrong when he has had his chances this season and has been an effective threat in attack from those dangerous corners and free kicks into the box.

Deep down Derry know they have to win the first leg outright if they are to have a chance of progressing to the group stage and then play out of their skins in front of a packed house at the Parc des Princes at the end of the month.

The French are glamour opponents but their season has not got off to the best of starts with just one win in four outings so far and they have struggled against sides promoted from last season.

Pauleta aside, they are not a side stuffed with top class players as the majority of the top French players play in the Italian and Spanish leagues as well as the Premiership.

There are enough parallels there with the Swedes to give Derry great encouragement going into the tie but the fans who are beginning to expect great things from this side have to remember what an exceptional performance their team put in in both legs of that tie.

Interest in the game is so great that even though it is being shown live on television, a special screening is being given in the Millennium Forum as well with only a lucky 2,800 actually getting into the Brandywell to see the game at first hand.


From Belfast Telegraph