Dundalk could cut Shamrock Rovers’ lead at the top of the SSE Airtricity League to just four points, with a game in hand, should they defeat the Hoops at Oriel Park on Friday night (kick-off 8pm).
Dundalk made it three wins in a row thanks to a 3-1 win at UCD on Monday with Patrick Hoban and Michael Duffy getting on the scoresheet before Georgie Kelly bagged his fist league goal for the club.
The Lilywhites have been further boosted by the news that Chris Shields – the SSE Airtricity League Player of the Year in 2018 – has signed a long-term contract extension ahead of the visit of Rovers.
“It’s great to get it done,” said the 28-year-old Shields, who has been with the Louth club since 2012 and is the longest-serving player alongside John Mountney.
“It is something I wanted to get sorted over the past few weeks but with the schedule of games that we have had, I had to wait to get that out of the way but it’s the right time to do it.
“I have had great years here at the club. We have won many trophies, cups, leagues and everything in the past few seasons. My progression as a player only helps with the players around me.
After a difficult start to life at Oriel which saw the club narrowly escape relegation in 2012, the midfielder has since been part of a team that’s won four League Championships and two FAI Cups.
“We have always had a fantastic squad and it’s a privilege to be part of it,” continued the Clondalkin native.
“It’s a strong squad here now. Vinny [Perth], Stevie [O’Donnell], John [Gill], Ruaidhri [Higgins] and everyone has done a great job. There has been great recruitment here over the past few years.
Dundalk have welcomed back Shields and Patrick McEleney from injury in recent weeks but are still without Robbie Benson while Daniel Kelly, Sean Murray and Stephen Folan are all doubts for Rovers.
“We have had a few injuries to cope with. Myself, Robbie Benson, Patrick McEleney, Stephen Folan – we have been unlucky with things but we have got a few back now,” said Shields.
“It’s good to get everyone back on the pitch. It shows the strength of the squad that we were able to cope for long periods without them and we want to kick on now.
“We are slowly but surely getting back to our ways. The games are coming thick and fast. Rovers have had a good start to the season. It’s going to be one to relish for us.
“It’s going to be a tough game but we are looking forward to it and hopefully we can continue our good form.”
League leaders Shamrock Rovers lost for just the second time in the league this season when they succumbed to a 1-0 defeat to Bohemians in the Dublin derby at Tallaght Stadium on Tuesday night.
“I think the fans recognised that the players left everything on the pitch for them,” said manager Stephen Bradley.
“The players recognised that the fans stayed with them throughout the whole game. The fans were unbelievable.
“It’s the biggest crowd we’ve ever had for a league game in Tallaght and at the end it was appreciation on both sides because outside of the result, it was a proud moment to be involved with Shamrock Rovers and manage this club.
“It showed everything of what we’re about, it showed the players and fans united together and if we keep that right throughout the season, this team won’t be far away come the end of the year.
In what was a predictably heated encounter, the Hoops had two players sent off in the first half when Trevor Clarke was given straight red card before Lee Grace was shown a second yellow.
Both defenders will, as a consequence, miss the upcoming top-of-table clash with Dundalk through suspensions while the fitness of both Greg Bolger and Ethan Boyle will be assessed prior to kick-off.
“Trevor and Lee will be missed for this one. They’re two good players. It’s not ideal but we trust the squad that no matter who plays, we’re ready to go there and get the result,” continued Bradley.
“We’ve a few knocks from the other night that we have to have a look at and we’ll still have to check on Greg Bolger and Ethan Boyle to see if they could play.”
Rovers are the only team to have beaten Dundalk in their last 25 home league matches and Bradley’s side will be hoping to repeat that feat on Friday night to preserve their lead at the top.
“Dundalk away is always a tough game but I believe this team is ready to play anybody. Friday will be a different game but we’re ready to go and beat anybody home or away.
“Oriel Park is a place we have no fear of. We know they’re a good side but so are we and it’s a place we enjoying going to play in. The pitch doesn’t bother us.
“When we play at Derry or Dundalk, we always train on the 3G pitch at Roadstone for the week leading up to it so it’s not an issue.
“You want any game quite quick after losing a game, to get yourself going again and this is a big game.”
Referee: Neil Doyle.
This will be the 199th league meeting between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers in a fixture that dates back to 1926. Rovers have won 79 of those matches to Dundalk’s 63 and there have been 56 draws.
Patrick Hoban became the first player since 1943 to hit 69 goals in the League of Ireland for Dundalk when he scored his sixth goal of the season from the spot in the 3-1 win at UCD on Easter Monday.
A goal for Hoban against Shamrock Rovers on Friday night will put him on 70 goals and ahead of Joey Donnelly as Dundalk’s all-time leading scorer in the league – a record Donnelly has held for 80 years.
Dundalk evens; Draw 21/10; Shamrock Rovers 3/1
Dundalk 2 – 1 Shamrock Rovers
Injured: Robbie Benson.
Doubtful: Daniel Kelly, Sean Murray, Stephen Folan.
Doubtful: Greg Bolger, Ethan Boyle.
Suspended: Trevor Clarke, Lee Grace.