Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny has praised his players for their convincing displays in the title run-in and hopes his “exhausted” players can regroup in time for the daunting challenge of Zenit St Petersburg.
Last night’s 3-0 win over Longford Town condemned the hosts to relegation, and coupled with Cork City’s reversal against St Patrick’s Athletic, means the Lilywhites are just one win away from a third successive SSE Airtricity League title.
The reigning champions have continued to win despite the unprecedented fixture list – last night’s win was their third within a week – and have little time to recover for Thursday’s home Europa League tie against the Russian giants.
John Mountney (back) and Chris Shields (groin) are the latest to join the growing casualty list, something Kenny feels is "inevitable" given their run of game.
Speaking to RTÉ Sport, Kenny was fulsome in his praise for his players and added that his former team were positive despite their precarious position.
“The players were exceptional to come back off three games in six days,” he said. “They have been really courageous and it was a convincing win.
“Longford played with freedom. We had tired limbs.”
Kenny credited the defence with another clean sheet and believes the win over title challengers Cork City last week was crucial with the title race in the balance.
“It’s only a week ago that there was a point in it after we lost to Sligo. There was a lot of pressure on us going into that game.
“To take nine points in six days, with three really convincing wins, speaks volumes about the players.
“I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
The players will have today off, train tomorrow, before they welcome Zenit for their third outing in the group.
After opening with a draw to AZ Alkmaar and collecting all three points against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Dundalk face their most difficult assignment to date before entertaining Bohemians on Sunday with the opportunity to wrap up the league.
Kenny is disappointed however that they have “no time to prepare” with his side struggling with injuries and energy levels.
“Zenit are a Champions League team disguised a Europa League team. They have won this competition, they have just turned down €20m for Axel Witsel," he said.
“They have a tremendous team.
“Hopefully we can be energised by the crowd. I think it will be a full house and we will need that because on Sunday we have an opportunity to win the league against Bohemians.
“It is great to be involved in these games but the players are on their knees. They are exhausted.”