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Dublin: 2°C Monday 12 April 2021

Shiels seeks home comforts against 'a quality side' in Europa League opener

Derry City play host to Dinamo Minsk in the first leg of their first round qualifier at the Brandywell.

Derry team huddle The Derry City team in a huddle before last month's Premier Division game against Dundalk. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

DERRY CITY MANAGER Kenny Shiels has called on supporters to turn out in big numbers for tonight’s Europa League opener against Dinamo Minsk at the Brandywell [6pm].

The SSE Airtricity League Premier Division club was recently forced to contend with a backlash locally after deciding to increase ticket prices for their European campaign.

Amid threats of a boycott of this evening’s game by fans, chairman Philip O’Doherty released a statement last week to outline the need for Derry City FC to become financially independent as “outgoings have outstripped income by a considerable amount” for the last few years.

Nevertheless, Shiels is hoping that vocal backing from the home support can help his side to achieve a positive result in the first leg of their tie in the first qualifying round of the Europa League.

“We’re returning to the European stage and that’s a very positive occasion for the whole club,” said the Derry City boss, whose side suffered a 10-2 aggregate defeat to FC Midtjylland of Denmark at the same stage last year.

Derry were forced to play the home leg of that tie at the Showgrounds in Sligo. However, after its redevelopment was completed earlier this year, the Brandywell will play host to European football tonight for the first time since 2014.

Kenny Shiels Derry City manager Kenny Shiels. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

The Candystripes also faced opposition from Belarus on that occasion, although they’ll be hoping for a better outcome over the two legs this time. Four years ago, a 1-0 loss at home was followed by a 5-1 hammering in the return leg against Shakhtyor Soligorsk.

“We have new players in and a very young squad who have worked so hard to get us here,” added Shiels. “They need our supporters. We all do. I sincerely hope that every single person who is able to, will come to the game and back us.”

After a run of six consecutive defeats in the Premier Division, Derry picked up a timely victory last weekend by overcoming Limerick 2-1 at the Brandywell thanks to goals from new signings Aaron Splaine and Ally Roy.

“It [playing in Europe] was something that appealed to me,” said Roy, a 21-year-old former Hearts attacker who joined Derry after spending the first half of the season on loan at Sligo Rovers.

“It is something that not many people get to do in their career. You could easily stay in the leagues in Scotland and be content. I’m an ambitious person and I want to push myself on and that was one of the reasons for coming here.

“Playing in the Europa League and playing here at Derry gives you that platform to push yourself. Hopefully we can get a good result this week, do the same in the away leg and get into the next round. It’s something I’m looking forward to and something I want to try.”

The Dynamo Minsk Team Dinamo Minsk pictured prior to their second leg against St Pat's at Richmond Park in 2016. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Dinamo Minsk are in second place in the Belarusian Premier League, trailing BATE Borisov. That’s also how the 2017 campaign ended, with BATE denying Dinamo a first title in 13 years via their superior head-to-head record after the teams were level on points.

This tie is their second against a League of Ireland side in the space of three seasons. In 2016 they advanced to the third qualifying round at the expense of St Patrick’s Athletic after defeating Liam Buckley’s side 2-1 on aggregate.

“Dinamo Minsk are a quality side and we definitely have our work cut out in both games,” said Kenny Shiels. “I will be asking a lot of the players to ensure that we do everything we can to make this a memorable occasion. I just really hope that our supporters do everything they can to back us.”

Shiels will be without the services of injured midfielder Nicky Low this evening, while veteran defender Gavin Peers is also doubtful. However, Northern Ireland international midfielder Dean Shiels — the manager’s son — could make his Derry debut following his departure from Dunfermline Athletic.

The prize for the winners of this tie — the second leg of which takes place in Minsk next Thursday — will be a meeting with Dunajská Streda (Slovakia) or Dinamo Tbilisi (Georgia) in the next stage of the competition.

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Paul Dollery

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