Second-placed Cork City play host to eight-placed Sligo Rovers at Turner’s Cross, in what will be a pivotal game for the home side in relation to retaining their title (kick-off 7.45 pm).
Last Friday night, amateur side Maynooth University Town travelled to Turner’s Cross for an FAI Cup second round clash, and succumbed to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of the hosts.
Aaron Barry, Kieran Sadlier, Josh O’Hanlon and Ronan Coughlan all netted on the night for the Leesiders, which set up a quarter-final clash away to Longford Town.
Prior to this, Caulfield’s side drew 1-1 at home to St Patrick’s Athletic on August 19th, which was a hugely disappointing result, and one where O’Hanlon headed home a late equaliser to keep their season-long unbeaten home record intact.
Speaking to the media ahead of the Sligo game, City boss Caulfield knows how tough Friday’s opponents are and expects an equally tough game.
“Every team that has come down here this year has put it up to us. We know how important the game is, we are in the run-in and we need to turn performances into wins. We need to keep the pressure on, keep winning and see where it takes us.
“Sligo have always been tough opponents; earlier in the season at Turner’s Cross, Jimmy (Keohane) scored when we won one nil and their away form is very, very good. Their away form is really good compared to their home form, which is unusual, but, maybe away from home, the pressure is off, and they have done very well.”
With Sligo all but safe, Caulfield believes that Friday night's opponents essentially come into this game with the shackles off.
“Sligo are safe, and it is one of those scenarios where they can come down and have a cut off us. The most important thing from our point of view is that we play the way we can; high intensity, lots of energy and quick passing. It is really about ourselves and making sure we give a performance.”
As a result of Shamrock Rovers’ last gasp win away at Dundalk on Tuesday night, the Rebel Army are now firmly back in the title picture. Only three points separate themselves and Dundalk in the table at present, and Cork still have to host the Lilywhites, therefore winning all seven of the remaining league games is of paramount importance for John Caulfield’s side, starting with the Bit o’red.
Rovers come into this game in mixed fortunes, having won a crucial relegation scrap 3-1 with Limerick before succumbing to a 2-0 home defeat to Dundalk on August 20th in a re-arranged fixture.
Although finishing in the relegation playoffs still remains mathematically possible with seven games to play, it looks increasingly likely that Ger Lyttle's charges will remain in the Premier Division next season.
Lyttle has witnessed his men lose all three games against Cork this year, and will want his team to buck that trend on Friday night.
Speaking to his club’s official website, the ex-Cliftonville manager made the point that, although he’ll be looking for a positive result, all the pressure is on Cork in the game.
“Training has been intense as we had the weekend off so we had to keep things competitive and it has been that way.
“The pressure is on Cork in this fixture to an extent, given the boost they have had this week, and we’re really looking to go down there and put in a performance and get the result. From our point of view it’s crucial we finish the season well and that’s for a number of reasons.
“There is 21 points left to play for so by no means is our place in the division secure.”
Sligo's dismal home record this season has been much talked about, but their away form is of a complete contrast – they have the third best away record in the league, with wins at Derry City, St Pat’s and Bohemians occurring.
“Our away record against our home record has been talked about constantly and I think we’re all a little bit sick of speaking about it really.” Lyttle said about the away form.
“I feel the win at home is coming and in the Dundalk game we didn’t look like a team that has the points total we have accumulated in The Showgrounds. We more than put it up to them. We need that little break and we just haven’t had it.
“Cork are unbeaten at home – they have had just two draws too – but we are really looking forward to going down there and trying to get the result.”
In team news, Seamus Sharkey is suspended while Gary Boylan is out with an anterior cruciate injury.
Referee: Derek Tomney
Both sides have met 39 times in competitive ties, with Cork winning 17, Sligo coming out on top nine times, while there has been 13 draws.
In those 39 games, there has been an average of 2.1 goals a game.
From the three other league games between the pair this season, Cork have won all three. Cork won 4-1 at the Showgrounds in February 1-0 at Turner’s Cross in April and won 2-0 in Sligo in June.
The home side are unbeaten at Turner’s Cross this season, winning 12 and drawing two of their 14 games.
Sligo won 1-0 last August at Cork. Rhys McCabe got the goal for the Bit o’Red on the night.
Cork City 1/3; Draw 7/2; Sligo Rovers 15/2
Cork City 3-1 Sligo Rovers
Injured: Colm Horgan, Conor McCarthy
Doubtful: Steven Beattie
Injured: Gary Boylan (ACL)
Suspended: Seamus Sharkey