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McErlain cracking the whip as Derry step up Division Three survival bid

 

By John Campbell

Derry manager Damian McErlain has fired out a sharp warning to his side ahead of Sunday's must-win Allianz League Division Three relegation shoot-out against Sligo - stick to the game plan or else.

McErlain, clearly frustrated by what he feels is the ongoing concession of 'soft' frees and lapses of concentration at the back that have seen his side leak 4-23 in their last two games, is also urging better decision-making as his Oak Leafs strive to avoid what would be an ignominious descent into Division Four.

With Wexford already relegated - their clash with promoted Armagh on Sunday is very much in the nature of a dead rubber - it now boils down to a three-way tussle between Derry, Sligo and Offaly to see who joins them.

Sligo garnered a point from a dour draw against Offaly on Bank Holiday Monday earlier this week to leave them level on four points with Derry, while Offaly, who face a stiff task against neighbouring Westmeath on Sunday, have three points to their credit.

While there may be various permutations governing the relegation issue, one stark fact is paramount - Derry must win not just to secure their tenure in Division Three for another term but to gain an added measure of confidence ahead of the Ulster Championship.

Yet it's Derry who are viewed to be in the driving seat for Sunday's clash as they strive to salvage a modicum of compensation for a season to date that has had more downs than ups in terms of results, although McErlain has managed to blood some new talent and afforded some old hands the opportunity to show that they can still do the business.

But it's in the crucial areas of defensive discipline and decision-making that McErlain will be looking for a substantial improvement on Sunday.

"It is lapses in concentration that can be dangerous," maintains McErlain. "And, while such lapses in defence can be punished severely, it is also a fact that a poor decision up front really puts you under pressure at the back.

"You have to look at why we are so open when that lapse comes and the attack breaks down.

"Obviously, someone isn't doing what they should be doing."

And in a pointed message to his players he adds: "It's a county set-up and once we get everyone back you have to put the men on the pitch that are going to make the right decision. That's all part of playing at this level."

Yet, although Derry have endured setbacks to date, McErlain can take considerable encouragement from the contribution of some of his players.

James Kielt and Mark Lynch have formed a double-pronged strike force lately, the consistent Conor McAtamney landed six points from midfield against Wexford, Enda Lynn is still well capable of linking defence and attack and Slaughtneil ace Padraig Cassidy, just back in the side, is already showing that he can break tackles thus providing the side with added momentum.

Cassidy is comfortable at midfield but was included at wing-forward against Wexford and got through a lot of good work in the middle third of the field as well as heaping pressure on the visitors' defence.

He is likely to have a key role again on Sunday against a Sligo side that has managed to score just 1-74 in seven matches.

Belfast Telegraph

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