Bray Wanderers v Dundalk
Still desperately chasing a win to put an end to a run of nine games that has seen them claim just one point, Bray’s task looks to be a difficult one as they take on one of the form sides in the league in Dundalk.
The Seagulls are sweating on the fitness of one of their best performers this season, Marty Waters. Waters, along with Shane O'Neill was forced off injured in Monday night’s defeat against Cork and others are rated as doubtful for the visit of Dundalk.
Also doubtful is captain Danny O'Connor who missed out on Monday night and is unlikely to be fit in time for Friday. However there is better news elsewhere as Danny’s brother, midfielder Kevin, is back in the squad after recovering from a knee injury.
Bray's Director of Football Pat Devlin knows just how tough a task the visitors will present and said: “Dundalk are a very good side and they got off to a great start to the season.
“They made some good additions to their squad and again this is going to be another difficult game for us."
For Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny, the utmost thought in his mind will be to extend his side’s 100% record away from home.
Dundalk will welcome back John Dillon from suspension, but they will have to make do without former Seagull Chris Shields who is still suffering from a knee problem. John Mountney, who impressed in last weekend’s victory over Cork City, hasn’t trained all week and faces a late fitness test on a calf injury.
Under Kenny, Dundalk have been one of the surprise packages of the season thus far and have won all four of their games on the road. Many believe this game will be a straight-forward three points for the away side, but Kenny sees things differently.
“It is going to be a tough game away to Bray Wanderers,” he said. They aren’t a bad side and played very well on Monday evening against Cork City.
“We will have to be at our best and we know that. We have been winning matches which is pleasing and a lot of goals have come from midfield.
"John Mountney, Stephen O’Donnell, Keith Ward and Richie Towell have already got on the scoresheet which is great. We can’t take Bray lightly and it’s going to be a tricky match.
“There are no easy matches in this league, especially away from home, but we’ve prepared well and we’re ready,” Kenny added.
Despite the Dundalk manager’s protestations his side should comfortably claim victory.
Cork City v St Patrick’s Athletic
With his side having battled back to overturn a 1-0 half time deficit at Bray on Monday before winning 2-1, Cork City will be hoping to build on that result as they face St Patrick’s Athletic tonight at Turner's Cross.
The Saints have been in fine form thus far and have emerged as realistic title challengers, only five points behind champions Sligo Rovers.
City boss Tommy Dunne is expecting a tough encounter and said: “Pat’s are a decent side, they have a good shape and they play some decent football. In saying that, we are at home so we need to have a good go at them and we will do that.
“We need to pick it up a little from last week, get going again, and I think the second-half display against Bray was a huge improvement. If we can push on from that, then I think it will give us a good opportunity. We need to be at our best because Pat’s are as good a team as any in the league.”
Daryl Kavanagh has struggled a little with a tight hamstring, but did come off the bench in Bray without showing any sign of a reaction to it, and Dunne will assess him at training this evening. Kevin Murray and Brian Lenihan remain sidelined, but other than that, the City manager has no other injury concerns.
St Pat’s manager Liam Buckley is boosted by the availability of Killian Brennan who has recovered from a knock picked up in training last weekend. Greg Bolger is also available after serving a suspension.
Buckley expects a hot reception in Cork, but his side have a good record there and haven’t lost a game in Turner’s Cross since 2007.
“Turner’s Cross is always a really tough place to go to, but at the same time it is still one of the best places to play in the league,” Buckley said. “Cork will be in good form after a good win against Bray the other night and have a good squad so we know it’ll be a challenge down there.”
For Saints’ midfielder Conan Byrne, the prospect of facing Cork will be a challenge, but as he told stpatsfc.com, the players are going into with the game full of belief as Pat's look to keep up the pressure on the league’s top two sides.
“This game down in Cork is going to be a very tough one. But we’re focused on the task ahead and know we’re capable of getting a result down there so fingers crossed we do that,” he said.
The visitors should extend their unbeaten record in Cork and both the Saints should leave the Cross with all three points.
Verdict: St Pat’s
Derry City v Limerick
The Candystripes will be eager to get back to winning ways against Limerick after a 1-1 draw with St Pat’s last time out put a stop to their six-game winning streak.
Just two points behind league leaders Sligo and looking for all the world like genuine title challengers, Derry will hope to keep up the pressure on the champions with victory at the Brandywell.
Declan Devine will have to plan without the services of Kevin Deery and Paddy Kavanagh but is boosted by the news that Stewart Greacen has been training well all week and will come back into the match day squad.
Devine is confident his side can maintain their title challenge and said: "At this stage of the season games are coming quick and fast and it's important that we focus on each game and perform to the best of our ability.
“I have been very impressed with the squad as a whole so far and bar the disappointment of the opening day defeat to Sligo Rovers I feel we have been very good.
“We can be under no illusions when it comes to Limerick, Stuart Taylor has put together a great squad with real depth and great attacking options.
"They have already shown in the first ten games that they are more than a match for any team and we will have to be at our best to come away with all three points."
Unbeaten in their last five games and playing a decent brand off football on the pitch, Limerick will provide a stern challenge for Derry.
Limerick boss Stuart Taylor welcomes back the impressive attacker Axel Bossekota, who has recovered from a bout of illness, but he will be without the suspended Craig Curran; the fans’ favourite having collected four yellow cards over the opening nine games.
There are no new injury worries for Taylor who only has Dom Foley on the long-term injury list.
While Limerick have adapted to life in the top flight well and have settled into their new surrounds at Thomond Park, they still have to find their form on the road with only a solitary win to their name away from home. They’re unlikely to improve on that record against Derry.
Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers
Many would have believed that the season’s first meeting of the two Rovers would have been a top-of-the-table clash, but Shamrock Rovers host Sligo trailing the champions by 13 points and closer to the bottom side than the leaders.
A 2-0 defeat against the league’s whipping boys UCD last time out for the Hoops was a disastrous result and manager Trevor Crolly will be looking for some kind of reaction from his players - whether he gets it is another matter.
Rovers have been dominating games in the middle of the park, but have been unable to convert their possession into goals and Mark Quigley looks a shadow of the player that helped Sligo to the League title last season.
Quigley is a doubt for this encounter with a hamstring strain while Ken Oman misses out with an ankle injury.
Despite their poor form, Crolly believes that his side can raise their game for the visit of Sligo and hopes that they can kick-start their season with a victory over the Bit O’Red.
“It’s a great game and one that I’m sure both clubs are looking forward to. This is the kind of fixture that both players and fans look for at the start of the season,” he said.
“It looks like the weather is going to be good, so hopefully there will be a big crowd and a good atmosphere on the night. We were disappointed with the result last week and we will be looking to turn that around starting on Friday night.”
After a blistering start to the season Sligo have stumbled slightly, bowing out of the Setanta Cup at the semi-final stage and dropping five points from their last two games. They still top the league, but the air of invincibility about them has faded.
Sligo boss Ian Baraclough must plan without Seamus Conneely, Danny North (both knee) and Ciaran Kelly (fractured sternum) who will both miss the trip to Tallaght. Raffaele Cretaro is a doubt with a thigh problem, while Iarfhlaith Davoren and Ross Gaynor are suspended.
Baraclough is wary of the Dublin side and believes they’ll view this game as a chance to turn around their season.
“A match with opposition like us is something they are probably looking for. When you’re trying to recover from a couple of bad results the visit of the league leaders can be seen as a good way to try to recover from it,” he said.
“They are a team that must be respected, a squad filled with talented players and it is a tough journey to the capital for us. In a lot of games that I have watched them play or looked at, the results could have been different with missed chances or a mistake where their total could be eight or nine points higher than it is now. It will be a good atmosphere and it should spur on the players.”
While a win for the home side would appear to be unlikely, games between the two Rovers have taken on an almost derby like intensity in the last few seasons and Sligo will have it all to do in Tallaght. For the Hoops, the chance to kick-start their season is there, but it’s more likely that both sides will cancel each other out.
Drogheda United v Bohemians
Drogheda United welcome Bohemians on a high. Fresh from a 2-2 draw with Champions Sligo, who they also beat for a place in the final of the Setanta Cup, the Drogs have proved they have enough to compete with the very best in the league.
Unbeaten in the league since the opening day of the season, Mick Cooke’s side will feel they should be higher up the table, but six draws from their opening ten games means they sit back in fifth place, ten points off the pace.
If the Drogs are to have any realistic European ambitions they have to start turning these draws into wins and against they may view the visit of Bohemians as the perfect opportunity to do so.
Cooke has several injury doubts ahead of this game. Alan Byrne and Derek Prendergast are struggling with knocks picked up away to Sligo in the league while Ryan Brennan is a major doubt with an ankle injury.
Cathal Brady is also a doubt but all four players will be given a chance to prove their fitness before kick-off.
The Drogheda boss is concerned that those injuries may take a toil on his side. “Bohemians will be coming to us with a lot of confidence and we are carrying a few injuries so the starting XI will have to keep their eye on the game. We can’t afford any slips in concentration,” he said.
“It’s going to be an interesting weekend for the shape of the league as all the top teams will be playing each other, it’s just a pity there’s such a need to pack so many games in such a short space of time.”
Bohemians battled back for a draw with Dublin rivals St Pat’s on Monday and manager Aaron Callaghan believes that result indicates a new found steel within his side.
“I always knew there was that character in the team. Just because one or two results didn’t go the way you wanted didn’t stop us believing in the lads, who have worked their socks off in training,” said Callaghan.
The Gypsies boss believes his improving side can continue their upward turn in fortunes and claim a result in Drogheda.
“We’ve got to respect them and we’ll do our usual analysis on how they are playing but we have to concentrate on our own performance and on our shape,” said Callaghan.
“We’re getting more players forward, which has certainly helped us. We looked dangerous on the break against Pat’s. As much as they had chances to win it, we definitely had one or two chances to nick it,” he added.
On the injury front for Callaghan, Owen Heary (knee) remains sidelined, while Derek Pender (bruised ribs) and Dave Scully (hamstring) face late fitness tests before Friday’s game. Stephen Paisley has left the squad due to work commitments outside football.
Bohemians have developed into a solid unit that can frustrate teams and against Drogheda, expect them to play deep and break when they can. Another draw for the home side appears to be the most likely outcome.
Shelbourne v UCD
Two of the three most likely relegation candidates go head-to-head at Tolka Park and while it may still be early in the season a win for either side could set the tone for a recovery in the second series of games.
Both Shelbourne and UCD come into this encounter on the back of good results. Shelbourne battled their way to a draw away to Limerick last time out despite playing the majority of the game with ten men after Robert Bayly had been sent off.
Bayly will be suspended for the visit of the Students while Glenn Cronin remains out of action and some way away from the return with an ankle injury.
Shelbourne boss Alan Matthews is desperate for a win to move his team off the foot of the table and said: “The players know the importance of this game and we go into it with confidence and a positive attitude having picked up very valuable points on the road in the last couple of weeks.
“We know a good performance will be required to get the right result but we have good hunger and desire to win within the group and I believe that we have the players to take on this challenge, as we complete the first series of games."
UCD will be buoyant after their shock 2-0 victory over league hopefuls Shamrock Rovers last time out. Goals from Sean Russell and Hugh Douglas ensured Martin Russell’s men claimed their first win of the season against the Hoops and the UCD boss is looking for more of the same against Shelbourne.
"It is important that we build on last week's result. Shels will also be looking to gain some valuable points and we will have to perform to our best again in Tolka,” he said.
Russell will be without the services of Mick Leahye (knee) and Mark McGinley (thigh) but otherwise his side have a clean bill of health.
This will be an intriguing encounter and a win would for either side would offer a massive platform going into the second series of Premier League games but with so much at stake, this could be a cagey affair and another draw may well be on the cards.
Highlights and analysis of all the weekend’s action on MNS from 7pm on Monday 6 May on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide).