With the league season coming to an end Shamrock Rovers can climb back to the summit of the Airtricity Premier Division if they can beat Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds on Sunday afternoon. (Kick-off, 3pm)
Following last night’s results Shamrock Rovers have the opportunity to take control of the title chase as they travel to the Wicklow coast for their meeting with Pat Devlin’s Bray Wanderers.
With Sligo Rovers tumbling to a 1-0 defeat at St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night, Rovers will move a point clear of Paul Cook’s side with a game in hand provided that they can claim all three points at a ground that has not always seen the Hoops perform at their best.
Lat season Rovers failed to win at the Carlisle Grounds, drawing 0-0 in the summer and, famously, being held 2-2 on the last day of the season in a game that saw them creep over the finish line to claim the 2010 league crown.
Mixed emotions then for the Rovers support as they head to the seaside, knowing that a win here would cement their position as favourites to retain the league title in 2011.
With just four games to play, Hoops’ boss Michael O’Neill reacted to last Wednesday’s 1-1 draw with Bohemians by saying that the result left his side “knowing exactly what we need to do now. If we win our remaining four games, then we retain the league, and that is our sole aim at this moment in time. Winning the four games will require us to take each game at a time and on its own merits, starting with Bray.”
Single minded focus would indeed seem to be the key with European distractions possibly contributing to a run of six league games in which the champions have dropped seven points. A defeat at home to title rivals Sligo was followed by a draw away to St Pats and, most recently, another draw at home to Bohs.
However, among the three wins that Rovers have achieved in this fourth round of league games was a comprehensive 5-2 win over Bray at Tallaght just two weeks ago.
Bray meanwhile have not been pulling up any trees with a current form book that includes just one win in seven games. UCD were the victims when Bray ran riot at the Carlisle Grounds last month, Sean Houston scoring a hat trick in an emphatic 4-0 win. A further sign that Bray’s form is tentatively re-emerging came with a 1-1 draw last weekend against Derry City at the Brandywell, another side that are in contention for the league title.
If Bray are to pull off another home result against Rovers then they will have to do so without either Jake Kelly or Adam Mitchell who are both suspended for the fixture. However Pat Devlin will be able to call on defender Shane O’Connor, who returns after suspension, and Sean Houston, who missed the Derry game through injury.
Michael O’Neill also has a largely fit squad to choose from, missing only Dean Kelly who remains out through a groin injury. Defender Craig Sives is also a slight doubt for the game but is expected to be declared fit in time for kick-off.
Suspended: Jake Kelly, Adam Mitchell.
Injured: Dean Kelly.
Doubtful: Craig Sives.
Referee: Dave McKeon.
Paddy Power Odds: Bray 13/2; Draw 3/1; Rovers 4/9.
Extratime prediction: Rovers to take advantage of Sligo’s slip and win 3-1.