Sean Russell’s UCD side entertain the surprise package of this season’s Premier Division, Drogheda United, at the Belfield Bowl on Friday night. The Students are firmly lodged in the bottom half of the table, lying eighth on seven points, just two points ahead of the three way tie at the bottom.
Russell’s men are currently lagging ten points behind their visitors from Co Louth after just eight rounds of league games and, with just four points separating twelfth from seventh, a positive result against the Drogs could be hugely helpful in hooshing UCD away from the scramble that is developing around the trapdoor.
Russell will be without a minimum of five players for Friday’s game with Ger Barron, Chris Mulhall and Tomas Boyle all on the injured list while Sean Russell and Niall Corbet will both be away on duty with the Irish Schoolboys side as they take on England at Brighton and Hove Albion’s Falmer Stadium.
The UCD boss may have centre back Mick Leahy available again after he returned to training during the week, which would represent a valuable boost in the wake of three league games in which the Students have picked up just one point.
“Everyone recognises the great start that Drogheda have had this season”, said Russell. “Mick Cooke has added some good quality to last year’s squad and they are playing without fear and picking up some great results. From our own point of view we must try and bounce back and produce the type of performance that gives us the best chance of winning the game”.
Drogheda enter the weekend on a run that has seen them go unbeaten since the opening night of the season when they went down 2-1 at home to current champions Shamrock Rovers. In the seven league games since then they have registered five wins and two draws, a sequence that leaves them just three points shy of league leaders Sligo Rovers.
Current form aside, manager Mick Cooke will not have happy memories of the last time he took Drogheda to Belfield, in September of last year. Having gone 2-0 down before fighting their way back to lead 4-2 with just ten minutes left, Drogheda somehow contrived to lose 5-4.
As many as seven of the starting eleven that day might also start this game but in all other respects Drogheda are an entirely different proposition this time around. So far the Drogs have won all three of their away games this season but, with wins against Cork City, Bray Wanderers and Monaghan United under their belts, this could prove to be their toughest assignment on the road to date.
Speaking prior to the game Cooke said, “This will be a tricky game for us, it's never easy going to Belfield. They will be well setup and they like to play nice football like us. But we won't be going there with any complacency. They may be on a bad run, but these things can change very quickly, especially in our league”.
“Confidence is very high among the lads. We have gone seven games unbeaten in the league, since the loss on the opening night, and we are in a nice position. But we know we must keep up this momentum. Training has been intense and everyone is fighting for a place. I have a nice headache every Thursday over who to pick”.
Cooke will be without the injured Paul Crowley on Friday night but the midfielder is his only absentee among a squad that is brimming with confidence.
Referee: Nick Pratt (FAW)
UCD beat Drogheda in three of their four league meetings last season. The aggregate score over the four games was 9-8 to the Students.
The last time Drogheda lost away from home in the league was in October of last year when they lost 1-0 to Dundalk at Oriel Park. The winning goal was scored by current Drog Johnny Breen.
UCD have alternately won and then lost over their last six home fixtures in the league. According to the current sequence they are due a win on Friday night.
UCD 23/10; Draw 23/10; Drogheda 11/10.
Drogheda have form on their side, a 3-1 win for Mick Cooke’s side.
UCD Injury News: Ger Barron (toe), Chris Mulhall (groin) and Tomas Boyle (Back).
UCD Suspension News: None.
UCD Unavailable: Niall Corbet, Sean Russell (Irish schools duty).
Drogheda Injury News: Paul Crowley.
Drogheda Suspension News: None.