By Rob Wright
Previews and team news on five Airtricity Premier Division matches tonight with Dundalk hoping to move into the title race by beating leaders St Patrick's Athletic.
Bohemians v Shelbourne
Bohemians come into this game in desperate need of a win and in danger of slipping into the relegation zone.
Without a league win in seven and with their last win coming against Bray back in April, defeat against Shelbourne could see the Gypsies leapfrogged by UCD and leave the Dalymount side second from bottom.
Bohs’ boss Aaron Callaghan has described this North Dublin Derby as a "cup final for both sides", and hopes his team can build that last week’s draw away to champions Sligo Rovers.
"It was a fantastic performance. Not many teams go up there and come away with a result, especially in the last year. I thought the character of the team, the application and the work rate was fantastic. But I think the key moment was Owen Heary coming back into the team,” Callaghan said.
Bohs' veteran captain made a long awaited return to the starting line-up against Sligo, and there was no coincidence that the Gypsies kept their first clean sheet in 14 games with Heary in the side.
"He just gives us that extra bit of experience", said Callaghan.
"It obviously improves the communication amongst the defenders, and allows us to push Dave Mulcahy into midfield.
"When you have that type of experience and work-rate to come in, it rubs off on the young players. Owen is a winner, and it just shows you how important it is to have that experience in key positions."
Heary is a doubt for the visit of Shelbourne however, with a hip injury. Keith Buckley is nursing a hamstring strain and Like Byrne has a dead leg, but Callaghan is hopeful all three will make the game.
Callaghan acknowledges a mixed set of performances throughout the season but is hopeful of putting a good run together now. "We've had some poor performances, we've had some mediocre performances, and we've had some very good performances,” he said.
“One of the key areas we need to address is our home form. We seem to be picking up some good points on our travels - we've got some good draws away to Drogheda, St Pat's, Shamrock Rovers, and obviously last week against Sligo. We know we have to improve our home form in the second half of the season.”
The visitors meanwhile already look likely candidates for relegation. With just one league win all season, Shelbourne are rooted to the bottom of the table, a full eight points adrift of their nearest rivals.
If there is hope at Tolka Park, it comes in the form of new manager Johnny McDonnell, and while he has yet to win his first game as Shels boss, there have been encouraging signs.
In their last league game against title-challenging Derry, Shelbourne were beaten by a single goal and carved out several decent chances.
With goal-scoring continuing to be a problem – Shels have just six league goals this season – McDonnell will be putting the emphasis on his front line and hoping they can exploit Bohs’ leaky defence.
Robert Bayly is McDonnell’s only new injury concern after he picked up a knock during the Derry game. Rob Cornwall (ankle) and Paul Crowley (hip) continue to be injured, although Shels are hoping that newly signed Garreth O’Connor will be registered in time to feature.
O’Connor’s availability would offer some much-needed experience for Shelbourne but their problems in front of goal remain and it’s for that reason above all others, that they go into this game as big underdogs.
Bray Wanderers v Derry City
Bray are a team on a good run at the moment and in veteran striker Jason Byrne they have found the form player in the league right now.
Byrne was almost single-handily responsible for their 5-4 win over UCD last time out, scoring four of their five goals and the frontman continues to roll back the years with some fine displays.
With nine goals in his last three games, Byrne is the player that Derry will be desperate to keep quiet and if they can do so, they will nullify much of the Seagulls’ threat.
That 5-4 victory over UCD stretched Bray’s unbeaten run in the league to five matches and has helped to move them clear of the relegation zone.
In the absence of Pat Devlin last week, assistant manager Eddie Wallace took charge of the side and is confident that Bray can claim a result against Derry. “We are looking forward to the game and we are on a good run at the moment and I feel we can do well against Derry,” he said.
Hand injury victims Shane O'Neill and Eoin Hyland are still unavailable for selection, while there is also a doubt about the availability of club captain and central defender Danny O'Connor who is struggling with an Achilles problem.
Also doubtful is striker Ismahil Akinade who got Bray back into the game last Friday against UCD scoring the equaliser to bring the sides level at 1-1.
The young striker picked up a calf injury and a decision on his availability will be left until shortly before kick-off.
The Candystripes meanwhile are looking to go into the mid-season break on a high and overtake champions Sligo Rovers to secure in second place in the league.
After a hard fought win last weekend in Tolka Park against Shelbourne, the Candystripes will be looking for their third straight away win in June which would keep them in touching distance of league leaders St Pat's.
Derry travel to the Carlisle Grounds in confidence. The last time they lost at the Wicklow venue was back in 2010 when Bray ran out winners by 3-2 in an FAI Ford Cup replay. Since that date, the visitors have won five and drawn three, scoring fifteen goals and conceding only six in return.
Manager Declan Devine is wary of the dangers that Jason Byrne will offer but remains confident his side will take all three points.
"We are fully aware of the threat that Bray Wanderers pose to us, They have had a couple of very good results lately, one of which included a very good draw against Sligo Rovers in Bray, obviously Jason Byrne has been hitting the headlines recently with his goal-scoring abilities - with nine goals in his last three games, he is still one of the best strikers in the league,” the Derry boss said.
“We know that we must remain focused on the job at hand and be determined to come away with all three points. If we can do this and play to the best of our ability, I think we can finish off before the mid-season break with three points,” he added.
Devine will be without the services of Dermot McCaffery and Thomas Crawley while Barry Molloy hasn't trained all week and is a doubt.
Despite those absences, Derry should have too much about them to be overly troubled by Bray and even with Byrne seemingly scoring at will, this should be a straight-forward Derry win.
Cork City v Drogheda United
Cork City manager Tommy Dunne is a nervous man at the moment. A sequence of games that has seen his side win just two of their last ten games has dragged the Rebels towards the bottom end of the league table.
Just three points ahead of the relegation play-off place, Dunne knows he has to turn things around soon but his side have been very poor at home this season, with their last Turner’s Cross win coming way back at the start of April.
Dunne is under no illusions as to his side’s predicament and insists that his side need to get all three points against Drogheda.
“This is a massive game for us,” Dunne said. “We need to be at the game, and we need everybody to stand up and be counted tomorrow night. We are in a situation now where we need to start rolling up our sleeves and start fighting.
“Over the next number of weeks, we need to get ourselves up the table and get a bit of momentum going. If we can get a couple of wins and a few good performances, then I think we will settle down and we will get back going.”
The Cork boss can welcome back goalkeeper Mark McNulty returns from suspension, but that’s where the good news ends as Denis Behan, is still sidelined with a knee injury.
Kevin Murray will also miss the visit of Drogheda with a groin injury, while a knee problem will rule midfielder Colin Healy out.
Brian Lenihan will also miss out as the midfielder is currently taking part in the Leaving Cert.
“We will have a few bodies back after the break, and I would like to bring one or two players in as well if it’s possible. I wouldn’t be sure if it is possible or not, but we will look at the avenues to do that.
“In saying that, we need to buck up, because at the moment it has just not been good enough,” he admitted.
Drogheda will be hoping to bounce back from a Louth derby defeat to Dundalk on Monday night.
Mick Cooke's men were edged out by a single goal on the night, losing 1-0 but they're struggling for league form, having won just one of their last seven league games.
Cooke believes his side have been unfortunate and said: "I think we have been really unlucky in the last few weeks, our performances just aren't getting the rewards they deserved. We have lost the last four games by the odd goal, it's a very tight margin. But I'm happy with our performances.
"We were denied by the brilliance of Peter Cherrie on Monday night, it's disappointing to lose the local derby, but I wasn't disappointed with the way we played."
The Drogheda boss can welcome back David Cassidy and Gabriel Sava, who are both available having served their respective suspensions.
However the visitors continue to be without Derek Prendergast who has an ankle problem and Eric Foley who pulled a stomach muscle. Declan O'Brien is also a serious doubt with a calf strain while Stephen Quigley is another doubt having picked up a knock during the week.
In Cork, Cooke feels that the Drogs are coming up against a side in a similar position and added: "It's a bit game for both sides, we both need the win before going into the break. I think Cork haven't had much lucky recently either, but If we can get the three points it will make the two week break that bit better.
Cooke's assessment is a fair one. Cork's poor home record coupled with Drogheda's shaky and inconsistent form should see the sides play out a draw.
Dundalk v St Patrick’s Athletic
Dundalk host league leaders St Pat’s on Friday night, knowing that a win could leave them right in the mix for the title race.
Trailing the Saints by nine points, but with a game in hand, a win for Dundalk would see them close that gap to six points and set them up perfectly for the second half of the season.
The Lilywhites took the spoils from Monday’s Louth derby when they edged out local rivals Drogheda.
Patrick Hoban continued his fine run of form scoring his fifth league goal of the season was enough to tighten the side’s grip on fourth and give them their seventh win out of eight on the road in the league this season.
Manager Stephen Kenny is delighted with his side’s recent form and is quietly confident ahead of the visit of Pat’s,
He said: “The players have responded brilliantly in the past few weeks with away wins to Sligo Rovers, Drogheda on Monday and the Cup win against Phoenix was excellent too. We have been on a good run and have played some good football.
“We have to make a re-adjustment with the two boys suspended (John Mountney and Stephen O’Donnell) but I am confident we will.
“St Pat are in great form and have a good lead at the moment but we will be doing our utmost to win the match and keep our own form going on Friday.”
Kenny has few selection concerns aside from O’Donnell and Mountney’s suspensions, although Eoghan Osbourne is a doubt with an infection.
The hosts emerged victorious in the previous match between the sides this season at Richmond Park in April, winning 2-1, but they have not beaten The Saints in almost 15 years at Oriel Park and have a poor recent record against Liam Buckley’s side.
Buckley’s side meanwhile are on an incredible run of form. They haven’t conceded a goal in five games, have won their last seven and are currently on an unbeaten run that stretches to 16 games.
A 3-0 win against Limerick last week saw the Saints extend their lead at the top of the table to six points and although they have played a game more than the chasing pack, they don’t seem to be in any kind of mood to give up ground to Derry and Sligo.
The Saints’ manager has been aided slightly by a light injury list and as he prepares to welcome back John Russell from an ankle problem, he again has no new injury concerns.
Buckley was respectful when speaking about Friday’s opponents and the early season defeat still lingers in his memory, but the confidence he has in his team at the moment was plain to see.
“Dundalk are a bit like us last year in that Stephen [Kenny] has put a good squad together, they’re playing well together and enjoying some good results at the moment,” Buckley said.
“They beat us earlier in the season so we don’t need to be reminded about how good they are. But it’s a big game for us as we’re top of the table at the moment. We’re there on merit having worked hard, so we expect the lads to continue to do that tomorrow night and see where it takes us.”
Given the kind of football that the Saints are playing at the moment and the fact that most of Dundalk’s success this season has come away from Oriel Park, an away win seems to be the most likely outcome.
Verdict: St Pat’s
Shamrock Rovers v Limerick
The signs that Shamrock Rovers may finally be kicking into gear are becoming more and more difficult to ignore.
Ever since their huge 7-1 Setanta Cup final win over Drogheda, the Hoops have been quietly going about their business, putting points on the table and while they’re still someway behind the league’s top sides, they are heading in the right direction.
Trevor Croly’s men still aren’t turning their on-pitch possession stats into results – four of their last six wins came courtesy of a single goal – but a 2-1 win over Cork last week put five points between themselves and visitors Limerick and Croly will be eager to extend that gap.
Ahead of tonight's encounter, the Rovers boss said: “We put in a good performance and got a good result out of the game in Cork last weekend and we will be looking to build on that on Friday night.
“Limerick had a tricky game last week and a difficult result and we know they will want to turn that around. They also had a lot of bodies out last week, who will return for this game, so we are expecting them to put up a tough test.”
Croly continues to be without the services of striker Mark Quigley who is struggling with a hamstring injury while David Elebert (quad) is also out. Goalkeeper Barry Murphy (calf) and central defender Jason McGuinness (groin) are both doubts and will be assessed ahead of the game.
Limerick travel to Tallaght in search of some kind of consistency.
Defeat to league leaders St Pat's last time out was certainly no disgrace, even if it was their biggest reversal of the season, but their form on the road has been up and down - winning two, losing two and drawing one of their last five away games.
Lims boss Stuart Taylor travelled to Inchicore with only 17 players - less then the full compliment allowed under league rules due to a combination of injuries, players sitting the leaving cert and suspensions.
Frontman Axel Bossekota is back from suspension, as are those students who sat the Leaving Cert but Taylor is still struggling with injuries.
Definitely out are Pat Purcell and Steven McCann, who won't return to training this side of the mid-season break.
Aaron Browne is sidelined after picking up a knock against St Pats, while Craig Curran and Shaun Kelly are also doubts.
Robbie Williams, who returned from injury last weekend, but picked up a slight knock us expected to feature, but will face a late fitness test.
This is likely to be another tight affair and again could be another Rovers game decided by the odd goal.
Given the Hoops' upturn in fortunes and Limerick's continuing selection woes, you'd have to give the home side the nod here.
Verdict: Shamrock Rovers