The Hoops have six league games remaining in the season to secure their current third spot and the final automatic qualification place for Europe. Four of those games are in Tallaght Stadium starting with Friday night’s clash with Finn Harps (kick off 8pm).
While the Hoops weren’t happy with losing the EA Sports Cup Final last Saturday, there was a positive result for Rovers elsewhere last week as Derry City lost away to Galway United.
Since City’s win in Tallaght at the start of August, the Hoops have managed to change an eight point defecit between them and the Candystripes into a one point advantage.
They will look to press that advantage home on Friday with their home fixture against a Harps side they have beaten twice this season and who are in the relegation zone.
“A lot was made of it when Derry beat us here,” said Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley speaking ahead of the game to shamrockrovers.ie. “99% of anyone I spoke to was doom and gloom and wrote us off for third place.
“We said the table would chop and change and it has. The team has been outstanding, winning seven games in a row (before the Dundalk defeat) and I've no doubt we can start another little run on Friday."
Rovers were a goal down early to Dundalk and went a man down after Aaron Bolger’s sending off on 65 minutes. Bradley thought the tackle which ultimately saw a red card produced was a booking but felt the first yellow card from referee Derek Tomney was soft. Bradley was very impressed with Bolger’s play up until the sending off.
"I thought Aaron Bolger's first yellow card was harsh. The second one, I can see why he's given it. It's a tackle and he's followed through. Once refs give a soft first yellow card they back themselves into a corner then.
“He's a good kid with a great attitude. He wants to be a footballer and wants to learn. The sending off is definitely something he'll learn from but he was outstanding on the day.
“He's 17 and playing against three midfielders who've won everything there is to win in this country and I thought he was as good as every one of them, if not better. He was outstanding on the day. He's played in some big games for this club in the last few weeks and he looks like he's been here for ten years."
Looking ahead to Friday’s game, Bradley knows it will be a battle as Harps seek points for relegation while Rovers look to cement their third place at the other end of the table. The FAI Cup may still help the Hoops into Europe should obviously they win it or indeed Cork City win their semi-final against Limerick.
“It's a massive game against Finn Harps. We know they're fighting for their lives. It's Pat's and Dundalk after that so there's a lot of big games to come (for Rovers). We're fighting with Derry for third spot and hoping to get into the FAI Cup final as well so a big few weeks ahead. I've been around long enough to know that in the run-in there's no easy games.
“Harps are a team that don't get beaten by many goals, more often than not, they come with a good game plan. They're hard to beat and dangerous from set pieces and on the counter attack. If we play the way we have been in the last three months or so and the way we played last week for 60 minutes I believe we'll be okay."
Noel, Noel, Super Noel....... pic.twitter.com/fvH5FVAwSN— Shamrock Rovers F.C. (@ShamrockRovers) September 21, 2017
Ollie Horgan brings his men on the trip to Tallaght in desperate need of points for survival as last weekend they dropped back into the relegation zone.
The Harps boss watched away from the dugout last week as his team let in a late goal to lose at home to Sligo Rovers and he is banned again from the touchline for the second game running this week.
“It was very disappointing to lose to that last minute goal against Sligo but the lads moved on from that once we got back to training on Monday night,” said Horgan speaking to his club’s website.
“We need a really massive effort from the team because every point is going to be priceless with just five games left.
“We have to go to Tallaght and try and get something from the game which is going to be very difficult with the quality that they have in their squad,” said Horgan talking up the opposition as per usual.
“Stephen Bradley will be looking for a win to make sure they stay third in the table for a European place this season. They will also be looking to bounce back after losing the EA Sports Cup Final last Saturday in Tallaght.
“Our lads will need to be at the top of their game to deal with the likes of Simon Madden, Trevor Clarke, Ryan Connolly, Ronan Finn, Brandon Miele, Michael O’Connor and Gary Shaw.
"I know they will be missing Aaron Bolger through suspension but with the strength in depth that they have that shouldn’t be a big problem.
Kilian Cantwell is missing from Horgan’s squad due to suspension, with Packie Mailey missing out due to a hamstring issue.
The game against Sligo last week was lit up by Paddy McCourt special (see here) but he is an injury doubt for Friday as are Ethan Boyle, Gareth Harkin and Sean Houston.
“Paddy McCourt has been playing through the pain barrier for a number of weeks so we’ll just have to see how he is tomorrow. Gareth Harkin had to come off on Saturday night at Finn Park because of a groin problem.
“Sean Houston and Ethan Boyle picked up injuries in training during the week so we well have to assess their fitness as well.
Referee: Robert Hennessy
Harps were desperately unlucky not to leave Tallaght with a point on their last visit. Having come from 2-0 down with goals from Caolan McAleer and Paddy McCourt, they allowed Simon Madden get a late winner for the Hoops in injury time.
When the sides last met, Rovers won 1-0 in Finn Park thanks to a late Michael O’Connor first half goal.
Harps have only one win from their last five league fixtures, where as the Hoops have won three in a row.
Hoops 1/4; Draw 19/5; Harps 11/1
2-1 home win
Injured: Graham Burke, Paul Corry
Suspended: Aaron Bolger
Injured: Packie Mailey
Doubtful: Sean Houston, Gareth Harkin, Ethan Boyle, Paddy McCourt
Suspended: Kilian Cantwell