by Ed Leahy
Sligo Rovers appeared to get over their mini slump by defeating Drogheda United in Monday night’s Setanta Sports Cup semi-final second leg.
And while the 1-0 victory was not enough to overturn the first-leg deficit, the performance pleased manager Ian Baraclough who described it as the ‘the best we’ve produced in a number of weeks’.
Baraclough’s side take on Drogheda for the third time inside two weeks and while Mick Cooke’s side progressed to the Setanta Cup final, thanks to a 2-1 aggregate win, it will surely be the league champions who will go into tonight’s clash at The Showgrounds as favourites.
The league leaders set a scorching pace to the start of their title defence, winning their first eight games, although their defeat to St Patrick’s Athletic last week allowed Derry City and Liam Buckley’s Saints to stay in touch at the top of the table.
But Sligo will go into tonight’s game full of confidence and expecting a victory after their impressive performance midweek.
“During our run of wins, I wasn’t saying it for effect that we were not playing well and that there is more to come from the team,” said Baraclough.
“It took two defeats to take us out of our slumber up until Monday when our performance was the best we’ve produced in a number of weeks.”
"They are strong, fit, put us in dangerous areas and are a very organised team with some very good players. We took the game to Drogheda on Monday night and created chances. I thought we were worthy winners over the 90 minutes.
"We wanted to stop the two-game run and get a clean sheet as well. It wasn’t enough for a place in the final so it is back to the league now and a very important period.
"At the league launch, I spoke about how seven or eight teams in this division can be considered challengers for the top positions in the country. My opinion has not changed and you have to be ready for each battle you face in the league and that will be the case on Saturday night."
The return of Joseph Ndo is likely to give the home support a timely boost ahead of tonight’s encounter.
The creative midfielder played for an hour on Monday night in the Setanta Sports Cup and is likely to get the nod to start, which will be his first league appearance since the opening game of the season.
Baraclough will, however, have to plan without the in-form Raffaele Cretaro as he is recovering from a thigh problem, while Seamus Conneely remains out of contention with a knee injury.
Danny North is in light training but remains unavailable. Ciaran Kelly is out with a fractured sternum.
This season Drogheda have maintained the impressive form that brought them a second-place finish in the last year’s league campaign.
Mick Cooke’s side are fifth in the current standings as a result of Dundalk’s renaissance under Stephen Kenny and Derry City and St Pat’s excellent form.
But Drogheda are playing a very attractive brand of football and certainly believe that they are more than a match for any side in the league.
Cooke had a full squad to choose from for the trip to the northwest as Alan Byrne, Gary O'Neill and Brian Gannon have all proved their fitness over the past week.
Drogheda assistant manager Robbie Horgan said: “I think for the first time this season we trained last night with a full squad and it's going to be a bigger problem of who not to select. Everyone wants to be involved and they are all pushing for a starting place.”
Nice headaches for the management team to have going into an away clash with the champions, but a rejuvenated Sligo side should take the points.
Verdict: Sligo Rovers