Last season, Bray Wanderers began the campaign encouragingly - beating Shelbourne in their opening fixture - but a defeat to Sligo Rovers in their second game initiated a barren run of form as they went another ten outings without victory. It set the tone for the year as they only just kept their heads above water.
A lot has changed at the Carlisle Grounds since then but Alan Mathews will be hoping his fledgling side can build on last Friday’s promising point in Limerick and Monday’s EA Sports Cup triumph over Shels as they welcome the Bit O’Red to the seaside.
It’s early days but the draw at Thomond Park underlined the talent in this Bray outfit and the solidity entrenched under the new management. The spine of last year’s side was lost during an uncertain winter but Mathews has made some shrewd signings and although they fired blanks last week, they have more than enough in attack to penetrate any defence.
One of the shortcomings last season, however, was their home form and tendency to leak goals. They won just three times on front of their own fans and shipped 27 league goals and will have to pronounced improvements if they are to avoid being dragged into a relegation dogfight.
For his first home game at the helm, Mathews will have to plan without captain Danny O’Connor, who has a groin injury, and the suspended duo of David Cassidy and Shane O’Connor. His options are boosted by the return of Graham Kelly and Dave Scully but Jamie McGlynn is a doubt.
“It’s important to get off to a good start and while I was disappointed with didn’t get all three points, a draw on the road is a positive,” The former Shels boss said.
“I watched Sligo on Saturday and I was very impressed with them. We now known we will have a tough game on Friday, but that is what it is like in the Premier Division.”
Sligo relinquished their league title in underwhelming fashion last year as a mid-season limp saw them slip off the pace but lifting the FAI Cup in November ensured the season ended in buoyant fashion. Ian Baraclough will be hoping to feed off the momentum of that Aviva date in the opening weeks of this campaign to build up a head of steam.
They travel to Wicklow in confident mood after starting with a hard-fought win over Athlone on the opening weekend and a comprehensive defeat of Crusaders in the Setanta Sports Cup and will be hoping to make it three wins in the space of seven days on Friday.
The strengthening of the squad during the winter means Baraclough has one of the most talented panels at his disposal and will have a full armoury to pick from for the trip to the seaside. Striker Danny North scored twice on Monday and is in line to make his league bow in 2014 after serving a one-match ban against Athlone.
Furthermore, Kieran Djilali and Ross Gaynor came through the 5-0 disposal of Crusaders and will be included in the matchday squad but long-term absentee Gavin Peers remains unavailable.
“On Monday it was pleasing to score five goals and also create plenty of chances in game that was beneficial for many reasons,” Baraclough told sligorovers.com “We had a lot of players come into the team and stake a claim, as I hoped they were going to do.”
“Bray will feel they could have taken three points against Limerick - they had more than their fair share of good moments in Thomond Park and Alan Mathews is going to make them a tough side to get past at home.
“Our record is quite good there and I'm hoping we can continue the manner in which we approached the last two games on Friday night.”
Referee: Graham Kelly
In the three meetings last season, Bray failed to win any, drawing one and losing two as well as failing to score in any of the games.
The last two meetings between the sides at the Carlisle grounds have ended scoreless.
Sligo are unbeaten in the last sixteen SEE Airtricity League meetings between the sides.
Bray Wanderers 13/2; Draw 3/1; Sligo Rovers 4/9.
Bray Wanderers 1-3 Sligo Rovers
Injured: Danny O’Connor (groin)
Doubtful: Jamie McGlynn
Suspended: David Cassidy and Shane O’Connor
Injured: Gavin Peers (knee)