The Hoops take on Sligo Rovers in Tallaght Stadium on Friday night (kick off 8pm) as they look to at least keep pace with table toppers Dundalk.
When Sligo Rovers last came to Tallaght, the Hoops were on top form winning 3-0 and moved four points clear of Dundalk in the early season table. That gap widened at one stage to 13 points over the Lilywhites (who had two games in hand at the time).
Since then though, Dundalk have got into top gear winning nine competitive games in a row, with Hoops defeats to Bohs, Dundalk and 2-1 away to Sligo seeing Stephen Bradley’s men drop into second place eight points of the league leaders.
Shamrock Rovers put in an excellent performance against Dundalk last Friday but still lost 1-0. However they built on the good play by following it up with an excellent win over St. Patrick’s 2-0 on Monday.
“We thought it was a good win and we did well,” said Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley on his side’s 2-0 away win to the Saints. Rovers goals either side of half-time was the difference on the night.
It was former Saints player Greg Bolger, one of Stephen Bradley’s most important men this season, who put the Hoops 1-0 up in first half injury time, with Sean Kavanagh slotting home the second goal five minutes into the second half.
“It was a good move for Greg Bolger’s goal. He’s on two goals now so if he gets one more it’s his best season ever! But it was a great finish. It was a good time to score because we’d had a bit of pressure up to then and it changes their team talk for the second half.
“Sean Kavanagh has that quality and when the free kick was given we were hoping that Sean would take it. It’s usually him, Jack Byrne or Dylan Watts that step up but we felt it was on Sean’s side and it was a great strike to put it in the keeper’s side.
“I thought we managed the game really well then. We sat in our half and kept the game in front of us and saw the game out.”
When the sides last met in the Showgrounds, the home side ran out 2-1 winners in a close game but one that they likely deserved.
“Sligo have shown this year that they can beat anybody on their day. We’ve got to expect the best Sligo possible to show up in Tallaght tomorrow. We’ve got to be ready for that but impose our game on them.”
Bradley isn’t writing off his team’s chances of the title and next week the focus will switch away from league action. The draw for the first round of the FAI Cup takes place on Monday ahead of Rovers’ trip to play SK Brann in Norway in the Europa League qualifiers.
“There’s loads still to play for, we’re fighting on three fronts so there’s an exciting second part of the season to come. The players have responded to the fans’ support and you can see how much it means to them on the pitch. The fans have been unbelievable home and away, the players and the staff really appreciate it so hopefully we can get another big crowd on Friday night.”
The 2-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in the Showgrounds at the start of May by the BitO’Red kick started a good run of results for Liam Buckley’s men. Until last week the Bit O’Red’s only defeat in that sequence of games came at the hands of Dundalk.
That made the 2-0 away loss to Finn Harps last Friday so dissappointing for Buckley’s side but his team they didn’t labour over that defeat when they played UCD on Monday.
Ronan Coughlan bagged a hattrick in the 5-1 win over UCD and it means the Bit O’Red will arrive in Tallaght bouyed by that victory ahead of the ‘battle of the Rovers.’
“It was a good response on Monday,” said Sligo boss Liam Buckley about his team’s home win over the Students. “I said to the lads afterwards that while we may have regrets over our performance and result against Finn Harps that it is in the past now.
“Beating UCD didn’t make up for it but there is nothing we can do about it except go to games like this and try to make up points where we can in every game.
“I said at the break that our medium-term goal is take as many points as we can from all the games and that must include grit and determination and desire to do so. We look forward now.
“I thought we kept it simple, kept it moving and we want to build on that. When we went to Tallaght for the first game, we didn’t really perform at all. That was 15th March and I think we’re a lot different team now and I’d like us to go out and do ourselves justice.
“It’s not easy at all to do that in Tallaght. I think the only defeats they have had there are ones they can count themselves unfortunate against Dundalk and Bohs so it’s a tough, tough game for us.
“That said, we’ll go there looking to take the football we played on Monday into this game and see where that takes us.”
Regan Donelan is Sligo’s only injury concern for Friday’s game with Daryl Fordyce back in contention after an achilles problem. As for any transfer dealings, Coach Buckley wasn’t giving too much away.
“There is no concrete update on players going in or out and this stage. But the club, the staff and I are monitoring the situation of ins and outs and when we have news we’ll let the fans know.”
Referee: Neil Doyle
Sligo haven’t won in Tallaght Stadium for six seasons. Their last win in the Dublin 24 venue came in the final game of the 2013 campaign.
Should Sligo Rovers get a victory on Friday, they will still remain in sixth place in the league table.
Two cracking Sligo Rovers goals from Daryl Fordyce and Jack Kearney, either side of an Aaron Green strike, earned the BitO’Red all three points when the teams last met back in May.
Shamrock Rovers 2/9; Draw 9/2; Sligo Rovers 12/1.
2-0 home win for the Hoops
Injured: Neil Farrugia
Doubtful: Aaron McEneff
Doubtful: Regan Donelon