Liam Buckley’s Sligo Rovers play their first home game of the season with his old employers St Patrick’s Athletic the visitors to the Showgrounds on Friday night. (Kick-off 7:45 pm)
Last season, the Bit o’Red seriously struggled at home, winning only four of their 18 home games, scoring only 14 goals in the process.
It was a worrying theme for ex-boss Gerard Lyttle, who’s charges where a lot better on the road. Their away form last year was effectively what kept them up, picking up some unexpected and important results along the way.
That theme seemed to continue under Liam Buckley in their first game of the season last Friday night, too.
Jack Keaney netted a free-kick against the run of play in the first half to give Sligo a half-time lead, but Dundalk substitute Sean Murray scored on his debut five minutes into the second period.
In truth, Sligo had 19-year-old goalkeeper Ed McGinty to thank for keeping the scoreline to 1-1 as he continually pulled of some key saves throughout, in a game that was shown live on RTE.
Buckley was no doubt delighted with the performance and result when speaking after the Dundalk game, but speaking to his club’s website ahead of the Pat’s game, urged his charges to back it up against a solid St Pat’s side.
“The start to our season shows just how there is no easy games in this league. It’ll be a tough one, St Pat’s have signed well in the winter as we know.
“We’re looking to build on the result last week and we’re looking for a performance to compliment it.
“We showed a real determination and a terrific attitude in Dundalk last week. I think if we get a good performance on Friday then the result will go with it.
Ahead of his first game at the Sligo Showgrounds, Buckley is itching to manage his first competitive home game, but jokingly mentioned it being against his former employers.
“I’m looking forward to taking charge here for the first time and funnily enough it has turned out to be against St Pat’s.
“It’s going to be a great occasion I’m sure but the priority for us is put in a performance and come away with a positive outcome.”
In team news, Ronan Murray (ankle) and ex-Saint David Cawley (knee) are doubtful and will undergo late fitness tests.
The FAI’s Soccer Fun zone will be in the ground on Friday night, which should appeal to families, with kids having the option of free popcorn and face-painting.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
Last Friday night, St Pat’s opened up their 2019 season with a hard fought 1-0 win at home to Cork City.
A penalty from ex-Sligo man Mikey Drennan was the difference for Harry Kenny’s men, after man-of-the-match Conor Clifford was taken down in the box by Cork’s Conor McCormack.
The game itself was a bit scrappy with clear-cut chances at a premium, with Brendan Clarke pulling off a beautiful, Gordan Banks-esque, save in the first half in front of a hugely promising crowd of nearly 3500.
"I was really happy with last week's win against Cork. However, we know it was a single result and that we have to continue the hard work on the training ground if we are to follow up that result," Kenny told his club’s website..
"Sligo picked up a very good point in Oriel Park against Dundalk. For any side to travel to the league champions and get a result on the opening night of the season is a positive so we know that we are likely tobe facing a strong Sligo team on Friday night."
For the aforementioned Clifford, the aim for 2019 is to improve on last year's performances and last week's victory over Cork in front of a huge crowd was a good way to start the season.
"It was a great win for us and a great start to the season. It was not a classic game to watch for the fans as it was a bit scrappy at times as we had to deal with a lot of long balls and clear our lines a lot, but it was a good team performance," Clifford told stpatsfc.com.
"It was brilliant crowd on the night as well and the supporters really helped us towards the end of the game. Cork were putting us under a lot pressure and the fans kept us going with a great support. It was a great atmosphere to walk out to and to see Richmond rocking again was great and hopefully if the crowds can continue supporting us."
Ahead of facing a Sligo side under the management of his ex-boss Buckley, Clifford admitted that he and his teammates are expecting a tough game off the back of Sligo's impressive start to the season with a point against Dundalk.
"We watched the DVD back of their game against Dundalk and they defended really well. It was a great point for them so that makes it difficult now travelling to the Showgrounds on Friday.
“It will be a tough game as Liam [Buckley] will have them set up well, and he will want to do well against us and what is his first home league game. But we are ready for it and hopefully we can get the three points."
There is a renewed sense of optimism around Inchicore this season, with many pundits predicting a European spot for the club or to even be title challengers. This optimism is justified due to Pat’s impressive squad overhaul during the winter, with Rhys McCabe, Drennan, Gary Shaw and fan favourite Chris Forrester some of their key signings.
The Saints have always done well at Richmond no matter what, but it has been their away form that has been poor over the last five seasons. Even last year, the Inchicore club conjured up a poor away record of five wins, three draws and 10 defeats, with only 14 goals scored.
That is something Kenny and co will have to look at if he is to see his charges finish where so many have predicted them to, starting in the north-West.
Referee: Damien MacGraith
From the four meetings between the pair last season, there was two wins for the Dubliners (2-0 and 1-2), a win for Sligo (0-3) and a draw (0-0).
Both sides have met 48 times in competitive fashion, with Pat’s winning 21 of those to Sligo’s 12. There has been 15 stalemates, with an average of 2.5 goals scored per game.
St Pats beat Wexford 3-0 in the Leinster Senior Cup on Monday night. Chris Forrester, Jake Walker and Paul Cleary got the goals in the second half in the Fourth round tie.
It is not just a poignant day for Buckley, Saints duo Rhys McCabe and Mikey Drennan return to their old club from last season.
Pat’s boss Harry Kenny was Liam Buckley’s assistant when the Inchicore club won the league in 2013.
Sligo Rovers 21/10; Draw 11/5; St Patrick’s Athletic 5/4
Sligo Rovers 1-1 St Patrick’s Athletic
Doubtful: Ronan Murray, David Cawley
St Patrick’s Athletic
Doubtful: Dean Clarke, Gary Shaw