by Rob Wright
Bohemians v Limerick
Bohemians are a club in trouble and in desperate need of a win.
It’s been ten games since they last won in the league, seeing them slip into the relegation zone and they’re in danger of losing touch with the teams above them.
The Gypsies faced title hopefuls Derry twice last week, once in the league and the other in the EA Sports Cup, and suffered 2-1 and 2-0 defeats.
However despite losing both those games, manager Aaron Callaghan is taking heart from the manner of his side’s performances in those games and believes they can build on that against Limerick.
“Even Derry people commented on how well we played,” the Bohs boss said, when asked about the league game at the Brandywell.
“There was a little bit of naivete in the defending at times but it was against the run of play that they scored. We got back into it when Kevin [Devaney] scored and we might have nicked another. We kept going to the end and I’m a bit disappointed not to have got anything from it.”
Callaghan had the opportunity to blood some new players in Monday’s EA Sports Cup defeat, with Argentian Santiago Miguel Falbo and Iraqi-born Zein Albehadlie both making their first starts for the club.
Both are in the reckoning to face Limerick as is new recruit Conor Murphy. Captain Owen Heary (hip injury) has returned to full training, but may not be fit for Friday. Dave Mulcahy has recovered from illness and Derek Pender returns from suspension.
However Stephen Traynor (ankle) remains out and Andy Mulligan is in Russia with the Irish colleges squad for the World University Games – a trip Traynor missed due to injury. Ryan McEvoy and Ciaran Nangle both have sprained ankles from training and face late fitness tests.
For the visitors Limerick, the inconsistency that has been the hallmark of their season continues. An impressive 3-2 victory over high-flying Dundalk last Friday was followed up by a 4-0 hammering in the EA Sports Cup to Sligo.
Nevertheless Stuart Taylor’s men sit comfortably in mid-table and look to be untroubled by any kind of relegation issues in the second half of the season.
On the injury front Pat Purcell (ankle) and Steven McGann (broken foo still remain on the long term injury list. Rory Gaffney (foot) has had a scan and the results of that visit are being assessed, while Jeffrey Judge misses out through suspension.
Taylor revealed: “Rory has the same injury on his foot as before and he will be a big loss, we wait the results of his scan. Dave O’Leary and Shane Tracy are slight doubts for Friday but should be ok. We need to push on now after a good win at home to Dundalk, but nothing will come easy against a very well organised Bohemians side.”
Limerick have already beaten the Gypsies this year, battling back from 1-0 down and with ten men to win 2-1 back in April. While the influx of new faces may help Bohemians in the long run, they will still need time to settle in and this game should go the way of the visitors.
Bray Wanderers v Shamrock Rovers
Bray Wanderers come into this game still looking over their shoulder at the relegation zone and fully aware that they need to start putting results together.
Three wins in their last five games got the Seagulls moving in the right direction but defeats to Derry and St Pat’s in their last two games have halted that progress.
It will be games against teams in the lower half of the table that will decide Bray’s fate and against a resurgent Shamrock Rovers, who still haven’t abandoned their title hopes, the home side will have plenty to do.
Dave Webster who was sent off late on in the defeat to St Pats will miss the game through suspension, however manager Pat Devlin has several new signings available after some busy transfer window work.
Dwayne Wilson who joined from Bohemians is available for the visit of Rovers as are fellow new faces Michael Brown, Sean Noble and Ryan Combe. Gary Dempsey is back in the reckoning having missed last week’s game.
Rovers' 7-0 victory over the Seagulls in April still lingers in the memory but Devlin believes that his side have learned from that and will be ready to match their opponents.
"We know what to expect from Rovers. In the last meeting between the sides we took a bit of a hiding, we now need to play with a bit of pride and determination and get a decent result,” he said.
The Hoops travel to the Carlisle Grounds in a rich vein of form, having won their last six games to keep alive their hopes of mounting a title challenge.
Rovers remain twelve points off the top but with a game in hand, there’s plenty of time to make up those points if they continue their winning ways.
Manager Trevor Crolly has moved to address on of Rovers biggest problems – failing to turn possession into goals – by signing Eamon Zayed. The former Derry striker comes into the Rovers squad for the trip to Bray, pending clearance.
Zayed is a like for like replacement for Ciaran Kilduff, who has joined Cork City on loan while Hoops defender David Elebert is hoping to return to training next week but is unavailable for the game in Bray.
Jason McGuinness trained with the Rovers squad this week so the centre-half is available for selection in a match that the Hoops have no other injury or suspension concerns.
Croly is wary of the threat Bray pose and is expecting a much sterner test than they were offered in their early season encounter.
“Bray are a dangerous side. They have good players particularly in the front area but they have a good blend of youth and experienced players all-round the pitch. We will need to perform and maintain the recent good levels if we are to win the game,” he said.
“We will look to go and perform on Friday. If we don’t get after teams, if we don’t press well, if we don’t pass the ball well, get good crosses into the box and get shots off then we won’t win games. It is important that we continue to carry out those components of the game well.”
If as Croly wants, Rovers put the pressure on Bray and press them from an early stage, they should get the win that they need to keep up their title challenge.
Verdict: Shamrock Rovers
Cork City v Sligo Rovers
Cork have it all to do again as they welcome Sligo Rovers to Turner’s Cross.
The Rebels suffered a surprise 3-0 defeat to UCD last Friday and then were beaten 3-0 by Drogheda in the quarter-finals of the EA Sports Cup.
It’s never a good time to face Sligo but as they’ve seemingly shaken off a mid-season blip and scored eleven goals in their last three games, Cork boss Tommy Dunne is rightly wary.
“In full flow, Sligo are as a good a team as you will get in this league. They have quality in the centre of the pitch, they are strong right down the middle of the park and they are also good from set pieces,” he said.
“For us, trying to pick up a result is the single most important thing and we have to get back to trying to play more constructive football. It really is a case of trying to work that extra bit harder to try and get ourselves into the game and into contention to get a result.”
Corks chances aren’t helped by injuries to several first team players. Fefenders Dan Murray, Kevin Murray and Darren Dennehy are all ruled out, as are midfielders Colin Healy and Brian Lenihan.
Gearóid Morrissey is a doubt having missed Monday’s game with Drogheda, while Striker Danny Morrissey is sidelined, as he recovers from a hamstring injury, and Daryl Kavanagh is also rated as a doubt.
There is some good news however as Ciarán Kilduff, who has joined Cork on loan from Shamrock will be available and should slot in up front.
Sligo meanwhile will go to within a point of leaders St Patrick’s Athletic with a win, and on recent form, they look likely to claim it.
Manager Ian Baraclough has seen his side find their scoring boots in recent games and will be further boosted by the return from suspension of targetman Anthony Elding and of new signing David McMillan, who joins from UCD.
Danny Ventre (knee), Raffaele Cretaro (hamstring), Aaron Greene (foot) are out for the Bit o’ Red while Pascal Millien is away on international duty with Haiti.
Baraclough was respectful when asked about Cork and said: “When I spoke to Tommy at the launch of the league this season, he was excited about what lay ahead. Consistency and a lack of goals has been a problem and this week he has tried to address it with the signing of Ciaran Kilduff.
“At home they will be a tough proposition. They have let themselves down at times but they will be hurting and try to come out and show they are capable of. Every game is a different game for us.
"Each one that comes along presents a new challenge and there will be a siege mentality by Cork if you like to try not to concede, to try to keep us out and test us. That is what we have to overcome and we are travelling in a really positive frame of mind.”
Barraclough is probably right to expect Cork to sit back early on and attempt to soak up the pressure but given the huge gaps at the back that injuries have left them with, it’ll be a very tough task.
Derry City v Dundalk
Derry go into tonight’s game knowing that a victory will take them level on points with league leaders St Pat’s.
With the Saints out of action, returning home from an impressive 2-2 Europa league draw the Candystripes will look to close the gap at the top.
Declan Devine’s are in fine form at the moment, having won their last five games but in Dundalk they come up against a team with title hopes of their own.
Devine is relishing the challenge and said:” I have really been looking forward to this game since the final whistle blew on Monday night against Bohemians. I feel this is going to be a big game for both sides and one that should be very exciting to watch.
“Both teams are on good runs at the minute and possess quality players who can score goals and produce quality football. Confidence has been very high in the squad over the last while and hopefully we can bring that into Friday night’s game and secure the three points."
The home side have a few injury concerns however and will be without Dermot McCaffery and Thomas Crawley while Ruaidhri Higgins and Sean Houston are both doubts.
Dundalk meanwhile are looking to bounce back from only their second away defeat of the season after they lost 3-2 to Limerick last week.
With Shamrock Rovers snapping at their heels for fourth place, Dundalk need a win but the Brandywell has not been a happy hunting ground for them in recent times and they’ve only won there twice since 2009.
Central defender Andy Boyle is keen to improve on that record and said: “We have to move on, it (the defeat to Limerick) is a bad result but we can’t look back on it. We have Derry City now and it is a good game to have, we want to put things right but it won’t be easy. Derry have had a great season and it’s a huge task but we’ll go there and give it our all.”
Dundalk will be without the suspended club captain Stephen O’Donnell who serves out the final match of his four game ban while John Mountney, Stephen McDonnell and Mark Rossiter are all rated as doubtful.
Keith Ward is definitely out and will miss the remainder of the season with a cruciate ligament injury. However there is some good news at top scorer Patrick Hoban is available again having served his one match suspension against Limerick last weekend.
Dundalk will offer a stern challenge to Derry and have a solid record on the road but if the Candystripes have real title hopes, this is the kind of game they need to win and one they should.