All games 7.45pm unless stated
Athlone Town v UCD
It’s too early in the season to be describing games as ‘must-win’ but Athlone, with one draw and 12 defeats from 13 games, have to start winning now if they are to have any hope of avoiding relegation.
Against UCD, a side that many expect to be part of the relegation battle, Athlone boss Keith Long will hope that his mis-firing strikers can finally start turning chances into goals and add to their rather paltry nine goals this season.
Long heads into this game without any suspensions but will have to yet again select without Aidan Collins who again misses out with a continuing shoulder problem.
UCD will come into the match full of confidence after a battling display saw them pick up a vital point at home to St Patrick’s Athletic last week.
Manager Aaron Callaghan was delighted with his team’s performance and feels it will give them plenty of confidence. "Last week was obviously a very good defensive performance," he said.
"Over the last few weeks since the Dundalk and Sligo games we have tightened up at the back, and this has given us a great ground to push on a pick up some good results."
Injuries have started to impact the squad in recent weeks, with key players such as Dean Clarke (back) and Ayman Ben Mohamed (knee) having missed the last number of weeks and look set to remain out until after the break, while Tomas Boyle and Cillian Morrison remain major doubts and will face fitness tests before the game.
Bray Wanderers v Cork City
Bray Wanderers boss Alan Mathews has called on his side to display more of a ruthless streak as they seek to bounce back against Cork City at the Carlisle Grounds.
The Seagulls went down 3-0 at the Showgrounds last weekend. “The scoreline didn’t reflect how well we played,” Mathews said, adding that his side was looking forward to getting Cork on home territory after going down to them at Turner’s Cross earlier this season.
“We have already played Cork and we had a tough game against them at Turner’s Cross and we expect something similar this time around, and we are looking forward to it,” he said.
Bray welcome back Adam Mitchell and Niall Cooney to their squad after both missed the trip to Sligo serving one match bans for reaching four penalty points.
Wanderers will still have to plan without the injured Jake Kelly and Shane O’Connor, both of whom are still a number of weeks away from a return to the squad, otherwise Mathews has a full squad to choose from.
Cork meanwhile will be hoping to extend their good recent form which has seen them move up to second in the league.
Manager John Caulfield expects a testing encounter in the Carlisle Grounds however and said: “Alan Mathews has been around the league a long time and has won a lot of trophies, including down here, and he always has his teams well-organised. Bray’s home form has been very good and over the years in the Carlisle Grounds, when I was playing, it was always a bit of a bogey ground.
“We had two difficult weeks and people were doubting whether we had the character and we have bounced back with two good performances and two wins. I keep saying, we need to hang in there and keep our feet on the ground. If we can do that and work very hard, then we will give most teams a game and that is all I can ask for.”
Darren Murphy is still sidelined with a hamstring injury, while Michael Rafter is still a long-term absentee with an ankle injury. Danny Morrissey is back in training, but the striker is still a number of weeks away from a return.
Dan Murray and Colin Healy both have hamstring injuries and will be assessed closer to kick-off, while Brian Lenihan will miss the game as he is away with the Republic of Ireland Under 21 squad.
Derry City v Drogheda United
Peter Hutton takes charge of Derry City for the first time at the Brandywell, hoping that a packed house can help push his side to a first league victory in seven games.
Hutton feels that there are positives to take from a 2-0 reverse away to Cork City last time out and said: “The whole squad are really looking forward to Friday night. The lads have trained really well this week and are showing some great enthusiasm. Although we lost last weekend to Cork we came away from the game with a lot of positives. The lads got the ball on the ground and put together some very good passing moves which just lacked a finishing touch and composure.
”This Friday will again be a tough test for the side, after the loss to Dundalk on Tuesday. Robby Horgan will be looking for a response from his side. And I’m sure they will come to the Brandywell fired up and ready to make amends for that result so we must be on our guard.”
Hutton will have to do without the services of Cliff Byrne who is suspended after picking up his fourth yellow card of the season. Also missing will be David Elebert (calf) Mark Stewart (calf), Cormac Burke (ankle) and Mark Timlin (ankle).
Drogheda United come into this game on the back on a 7-0 drubbing from Dundalk in the Louth derby and manager Robbie Horgan is expecting an immediate response.
“There were a few home truths told in the dressing room after the game. Our discipline must be better because with 11 men on the pitch we still could have caused an upset. It is important to learn from these mistakes but not to dwell on them either; the great thing about this league is that the games come thick and fast,” Horgan said.
“I’m confident that the players will respond to the criticism, nobody involved with the club wants to lose by that margin in any game. The best way to react to a defeat like that isn’t to talk about it but to show it won’t happen again on the pitch. What’s happened has happened and the best way to answer the criticism is to put in a positive performance at the Brandywell tomorrow night.”
The visitors will be without several players for the trip north. Michéal Schlingermann, Stephen Maher and Cathal Brady will all be missing due to injury.
Eric Foley will be suspended following his red card against Dundalk while Gavin Brennan will serve the second game of his two-match additional ban for his dismissal against Shamrock Rovers in the EA Sports Cup.
Dundalk v Sligo Rovers
Table toppers Dundalk, fresh from their 7-0 victory over Drogheda, play their second game in three days when they welcome title rivals Sligo to Oriel Park.
Dundalk boss Stephen Kenny is hoping for another three points and to extract a measure of revenge against Sligo after the Bit o’Red beat them in the Setanta Cup final.
“The players have responded well to the defeat in the Setanta Cup final knockback. They have responded well with two big wins, one against Limerick and the other in the derby,” he said.
“Sligo coming here is the third one in a week and we can take inspiration that we have 13 different players who have scored this season, all of our defenders, all of our back four have all scored so we are not relying on any individual and that gives us confidence against a strong Sligo team”
Dundalk continue to be without their captain Stephen O’Donnell who is long-term injured with a serious knee injury and there are no suspension worries.
John Mountney may miss out once more with a groin injury which has kept him out of the last two league games. One plus has been the return to league action of Keith Ward who came off the bench on Tuesday evening to a rapturous welcome.
Sligo will be hoping to extend their eight match unbeaten run and close the eight point gap on Dundalk.
Manager Ian Baraclough is delighted with the Bit o’Red’s form and is eager to see it continue, saying: “It has been a great response to our poor start to the season.
"All credit goes to the players for the manner in which they've done it. We needed to put together a strong run and we have done it in a strong fashion.
“If we are to have any aspirations of challenging for the league title, we have to pick up points against the teams above us in the table. It's a really important game, but that goes for both sides I think.
"The two teams are well-matched. I don't think the previous two meetings will have any bearing but they do show how little there is between us. It might take a moment of magic to win the game on Friday."
In team news; Alan Keane (thigh and knee), Joseph Ndo (calf), Gavin Peers (knee), Raffaele Cretaro (calf) and Kieran Djilali (knee) are set to miss out.
Limerick v St Patrick’s Athletic
Limerick manager Stuart Taylor says his side must “stop pressing the self-destruct button” after two mistakes cost them dear in the Munster Derby, with the manager aware they must tighten up for the visit of champions Saint Patrick’s Athletic.
Limerick suffered a third straight loss on Tuesday evening as Cork City took full advantage of errors from the hosts to claim a 2-1 victory.
Taylor believes that his side are close to hitting their stride and believes that they can claim a result against the Saints. “St. Pat’s are one of the top teams in the country,” Taylor told LimerickFC.ie.
“They have a very strong backroom team staff there with Martin Russell coming in and they have a really strong squad, so we’ll have to be on top of our game. We’re looking to get the three points; we showed against St. Pat’s earlier in the season that we can match them."
The Limerick boss will have to assess the fitness of experienced left-back Robbie Williams (hamstring) after he was forced off within eight minutes against Cork. Fellow defender Shane Costelloe (back) continues his recovery programme, with Taylor otherwise having a fully-fit and suspension-free squad.
St Pat’s are coming into the game on the back of a disappointing result of their own after they surprisingly dropped two points away to UCD last week.
Manager Stuart Taylor is confident that he will get an immediate reaction from his players and told stpatsfc.com: “The lads were a bit unlucky last week against UCD so the aim will be to bounce back on Friday. To do that though we know we’ll have to up the performance level a bit, so the preparation for Friday is all about getting that right, and if we do that, we’ll hopefully be okay.
“Limerick are a tough side and won’t give us anything easy. We had tough games in Thomond Park last year so we know what to expect come kick-off time.”
The Saints will be without the services of defender Derek Foran, who continues to recover from a knee injury, but were boosted during the week by the return to action of both Ken Oman and Mark Quigley in their 1-0 Leinster Senior Cup semi-final over Shamrock Rovers.
Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, 8pm
Both teams come into this Dublin derby in vastly different form. Bohemians are without a win in seven games, while Rovers have won their last four as their title challenge begins to develop.
Nevertheless, Rovers manager Trevor Crolly is aware that this derby game is never predictable and said: “Rovers and Bohemians games are always tight encounters and tend to be close games.
“Even though Bohemians have only won two games this season, and haven’t won in seven games, they have some very good players who have a lot of experience in this league, and have won titles. But it’s always different when it’s Rovers and Bohs, and I expect that to be no different tomorrow night."
Crolly must plan for the game without the suspended Robert Bayly while Conor Kenna and Sean Heaney will both miss out with hamstring problems.
Bohemians go to Tallaght in search of a league win following several “very frustrating” draws and a single-goal defeat to Drogheda last week.
“It’s very frustrating that we are dominating games, creating chances and we’re not winning,” said manager Owen Heary. “Drogheda had very few chances and then we go and make a bad mistake and they win the game.
“We will keep working on shape, but we have been working more on shooting practice. We’re creating a lot of chances and we should be putting away at least two of those in a game.
“Jason (Byrne) was unlucky with a couple last week but we cannot rely only on him. We need someone to help him turn chances into goals.”
With Dinny Corcoran suspended, veteran Byrne is the only out-and-out striker available. Jack Memery is busy with exams while Derek Pender (hamstring) faces a late fitness test. There is better news for the Gypsies elsewhere as Roberto Lopes returns from suspension.