Having started their league campaign with four defeats from their opening six games, there is no panic at Shamrock Rovers but they could certainly do with picking up all three points against Finn Harps in Tallaght on Friday (kick off 8pm).
Three of those losses came against the teams who finished above fourth placed Rovers last season (Dundalk, Cork City and Derry City). Their other defeat came last Saturday in Inchicore in a game that they dominated until the first half sending off of Sean Heaney.
The positives last Saturday came away from the first team with the official opening of the first phase of their academy at Roadstone by Minister Katherine Zappone and John Delaney - a significant step in the long term development of Shamrock Rovers (see here).
However, Hoops patience with the very positive off-field developments, is being tested with the run of results at present. Reassuringly Rovers’ defeats have all come by just one goal and performances on the pitch particurlarly in the second half against Cork City and the first half against Pat’s have been at a high level.
"We need to win,” was Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley’s simple message ahead of Friday’s game. “We've got to react; not change the way we've been playing because we've been really good but change the goals we're giving away - change the sloppy mistakes.”
Gary Shaw gave Rovers a 13th minute lead last week against St. Pat’s but the goalscorer is a doubt for Friday’s game having gone over on his ankle in training this week.
"We were 1-0 up and comfortably controlling the game,” said Stephen Bradley looking back on their match in Inchicore. “Every time we went forward we looked really dangerous. I thought we looked really good. We looked on course to win the game by two or three.”
Sean Heaney was possibly unlucky with his first yellow card for a jersey tug on the half hour mark but it was a deserved second yellow he picked up four minutes later for a very rash challenge on Conan Bryne which saw Heaney see red.
“If the sending off happened later on in the game you could maybe stay two up top and have a go at them even though you're down to ten men but happening so early in the game, it really knocked us back.
“The boys that stayed on the pitch I thought worked really hard and showed great character and togetherness, to hold out for the way they did. The shape and the way they played I thought was excellent."
It was the Saints substitutes that proved the match winners with Kurtis Byrne scoring off the bench, before Josh O’Hanlon came straight on for a Pat’s corner and got the winning goal with his first touch.
"We need to be more ruthless in our box when we're defending corners because we can't keep saying that we played well and should have won games but we're giving away set play goals. We know that and we've looked at it this week and hopefully we can put it right going from tomorrow."
Bradley was very critical of the unavailability of two crucial players for his team last week (see here) but Bradley will have both Trevor Clarke and Michael O'Connor back from Ireland under 19 duty on Friday. “All the reports we got back on Trevor from people I know that were over there watching the tournament said he was one of the best players over there. We missed him last week and he's a big plus for us".
Having accumulated eight points so far in the league campaign, Harps sit two points above the Hoops in the early league table. Not one to talk up his team though, manager Ollie Horgan knows the test that awaits his side in Tallaght on Friday.
“The Shamrock Rovers players will be under huge pressure to get a win against us,” said Horgan.
“Even though they are behind us in the table at the moment, they will still see Finn Harps as a very big chance for three points.”
Having lost their opening two games in the league, Harps bring good form with them to face Rovers - a recent run of two wins (away to St. Pat’s and home to Sligo Rovers) and two 1-1 draws (home to Galway United and away to Limerick).
That victory against Sligo came last week thanks to a 94th minute winner from Ciaran O’Connor (who may well face his brother Michael on Friday). Harps had come from behind having gone 1-0 down just before the hour mark to a Raf Cretaro goal.
Killian Cantwell equalised on 69 minutes before O’Connor got his fourth of the season when he scored a rebound after his initial penalty was pushed away by Micheál Schlingermann.
Unsurprisingly Horgan isn’t getting too carried away in what is a very challenging season for the teams in the Premier Division with three teams set for automatic relegation.
“There is a long way to go with 27 matches still to be played. It’s good to have eight points on the board but we have to keep the momentum going and it starts with trying to take something home from Tallaght, which will be a huge challenge for us.”
Horgan will be unable to call upon the services of Damian McNulty who limped off during the Sligo Rovers game with a hamstring injury.
He also confirmed that both Barry Molloy (calf) and former Shamrock Rovers player Paddy McCourt (ankle) are very doubtful for the game.
Referee: Sean Grant.
This will be the 70th meeting of the two clubs. From the 34 matches played in Dublin, Harps have won just seven.
If Harps can inflict a defeat on Rovers this Friday, it will be the first time that the Hoops have lost three consecutive games in Tallaght. Should the visitors remain undefeated, it will be the first time since 2001 that Harps will be unbeaten in five Premier Division games.
Finn Harps and Shamrock Rovers are both still looking for their first clean sheet in the league this season.
Shamrock Rovers 4/9; Draw 11/4; Finn Harps 7/1.
2-0 home win
Injured: Luke Byrne, Paul Corry.
Doubtful: Gary Shaw (ankle).
Suspended: Sean Heaney.
Doubtful: Barry Molloy (calf), Paddy McCourt (ankle).
Suspended: Damian McNulty (hamstring).