By Ed Leahy
Limerick v Shamrock Rovers
Shamrock Rovers travel to Thomond Park to take on Limerick in tonight’s Airtricity League Premier Division encounter, kick-off 7.45pm.
Trevor Croly’s Hoops are still looking to kick-start their season as they have drawn four of their opening five league games with just one victory coming against St Patrick’s Athletic.
But Rovers must, once again, plan without Jason McGuinness who remains out with a hamstring tear, while fellow defender David Elebert is also missing with a groin strain.
Otherwise, Croly has a full squad to choose from and the manager is likely to name an unchanged back-four with Kem Oman and Derek Foran marshalling the centre of defence.
The big decision for the new Rovers boss is to decide whether to play a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 formation with either Ciaran Kilduff or Mark Quigley leading the line. If Croly decides on the latter formation, the two strikers might get to start at Thomond.
Another decision Croly has to make is whether to start Stephen Rice; the central midfielder came on as a half-time substitute for Shane Robinson on Friday night. Rice’s tough tackling approach changed the game in Rovers’ favour as Cork City had taken a 1-0 lead into the break.
Looking ahead to tonight’s encounter, Croly said: “I was down there (Thomond Park) on Saturday night and it’s a great venue to be playing in, both for the players and the fans. Limerick also have a good side. They have good players and we expect it to be a tricky test for us. But we are well prepared for the game and will be looking to go and get a win from the tie.”
Limerick are also looking to get their campaign back on track after losing their last two league games, away to Sligo and at home to St Pat’s on Saturday.
And Stuart Taylor’s side will have had a day less than tonight’s opponents to recover as Rovers played on Friday night.
Taylor’s side have impressed in recent weeks, despite losing their last two games, and will fancy themselves against a Shamrock Rovers side who are not yet playing to their potential.
But a five-point return from five games is not good enough for a team who can potentially push for a top-four place. And like their visitors tonight, the goals-for column is not sufficiently populated, with only six goals scored, three of which came against bottom side UCD.
A newcomer to the league, manager Taylor has now seen plenty of game time and should have a better idea how to set out his team, especially at new home Thomond Park.
And the Limerick boss was in Tallaght on Friday night to watch Shamrock Rovers earn a last-minute draw with Cork City.
The Hoops appeared to be two different teams in that clash with the second-half performance much more impressive than the opening 45 minutes.
So tonight’s result probably depends on which Rovers team shows up in Limerick.
St Patrick’s Athletic v Dundalk
St Patrick’s Athletic will look to build on Saturday’s victory as they welcome Dundalk to Richmond Park for tonight’s clash, kick-off 7.45pm.
Liam Buckley’s side recorded an impressive away win in Limerick at the weekend, coming after missing two matches due to the inclement weather.
And Saints should take that confidence into tonight’s clash with the Lilywhites, knowing that victory could move them up to third place in the table.
Buckley may have to plan without Shane McFaul as he is struggling with a muscle strain; the midfielder will undergo a late fitness test to assess his condition. Otherwise, the manager has a full squad to choose from.
Buckley said: “I saw the Louth derby last week and Dundalk showed great spirit to come back and draw 2-2, so we’ll be expecting a difficult game.
“Stephen has put a quality group together that also have a huge amount of potential. They’ve made a great start to the league. At this early stage they’ve already got a decent haul of points, so we’ll have to be on our game.”
Dundalk have recorded wins in their away fixtures to date against Shelbourne and UCD and have enjoyed a decent start to the season; their only loss coming against league champions Sligo Rovers.
Stephen O’Donnell is ruled out injured for the Lilywhites but otherwise manager Stephen Kenny has a full squad to choose from.
Looking ahead to the trip to Inchicore, Kenny said: “You really can’t underestimate the value of persistence. Without that persistence we’d have nothing. We’ve battled in all our games so far and we’ve come away with points.
“All our goals have come late so maybe it’s time we started scoring in the first 15 minutes of games. A lot of our players are still learning about themselves and the Airtricity League. There are areas of improvement and we will improve.
“St. Patrick’s Athletic will be another tough game. They have a formidable squad. Some really good players and they got a really good win against Limerick.
“They’ve started the season well but so have we. We have been really good away from home and we will step up to the challenge. After Pat’s, we’ll have played the top four from last season and we’ve done ok.”
Consistency may be the deciding factor when these two evenly matched sides, quality wise, come head to head. And it’s Kenny’s side who appear to have the advantage in that department.