Shamrock Rovers have clicked into gear in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division as they look to extend a run of five victories in succession tonight in front of the RTÉ cameras.
A slow start to the campaign brought two defeats and draws and sparked debate about whether there could be an open top half of the table.
But since a 2-2 thriller with Sligo Rovers on 18 March, the Hoops have reeled off five wins, conceding just two goals, and seeing off the likes of St Patrick's Athletic and Dundalk.
Tonight they face the last team to take a point off them, with the Bit O’ Red beginning to rally after having a real wobble since that game.
While Stephen’s Bradley’s men have been near flawless, Sligo suffered a run of three defeats from four.
They’ve responded with victories over Finn Harps and Drogheda United in the last week. The latter would have been particularly pleasing to Liam Buckley as his side showed character after being somewhat unfortunate to concede two goals.
🎥 | GOAL!— SSE Airtricity League (@SSEAirtricityLg) April 23, 2022
It looks like a last-gasp winner for @sligorovers as Gary Buckley fires home after some goalmouth pinball! ⚽️
The drama! 😅@sligorovers 3-2 @DroghedaUnited
Sign up | https://t.co/zOGOgOjp1S#LOI | #LOITV pic.twitter.com/9E1TbrdCj5
Garry Buckley’s 92nd-minute winner brought clear relief and joy and will give the home side some confidence against the Dublin Rovers.
The match is live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player from 7.30pm.
Derry City laid down a marker when they knocked in seven goals against UCD last week.
Still top of the table, having seen their six-point lead cut to one, City showed their goalscoring prowess having left Drogheda frustrated in their previous game.
They face a much tougher test in Inchicore against St Pat's.
A late Will Patching goal decided the game in the Ryan McBride Brandywell. This should be another close match and represents a big opportunity for the Saints to close in on the top two.
Tonight’s rounds of matches also brings a Louth derby at Oriel Park.
Dundalk are really starting to find a groove as they delighted the home support with victory over Shels last week.
With the teams above them in the table facing each other tonight, this game brings an opportunity to make up ground as well as extract some revenge for an earlier defeat in the campaign to Drogheda.
United were disappointed to come away empty-handed from Sligo, regretting a slow start and a needless red card as well as that late goal.
Having opened up a gap on the bottom two, they’ll be keen to maintain it knowing one of the sides below them will pick up points elsewhere.
Finn Harps have been hit with injury blows as their struggles continue and it really is a massive game with Shelbourne coming to Finn Park.
Five points separate Harps and the side above them in the table. It’s a real six-pointer in the relegation picture and Ollie Horgan’s fears of potentially being cut adrift if they don’t find form soon could materialise.
Elsewhere Bohemians need a lift after a demoralising loss to rivals Shams last week.
Keith Long admitted he needs reinforcements after a difficult recruitment period in the off-season. Whether that will be psychological lift or blow to his current squad remains to be seen.
Their opponents are UCD. College lifted the Collingwood Cup and used some of their Premier Division names to ensure the victory over Queen’s University.
Life in the Premier Division has proven much harder with just four points from the dozen games so far. Whichever side comes away with a positive result tonight will certainly feel some relief.
Sligo Rovers v Shamrock Rovers, The Showgrounds, 7.45pm, live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player
Stephen Bradley feels Sligo Rovers' greatest asset is their attack as he brings his side to The Showgrounds tonight.
Both Aidan Keena and Max Mata have been among the goals for Sligo, while David Cawley notched a brace last week against Finn Harps.
Keena and Will Fitzgerald put the Bit O' Red 2-0 up in Tallght before the Hoops fought back.
Bradley said: "We learned what we felt about them before that game, that they're dangerous in the attacking part of the pitch. They showed that in Tallaght. They made two or three chances and scored two goals, so we need to respect that and ready for that, because they showed that they can be dangerous.
"We'll just go there with the same mindset, the same attitude and desire to get three points, and hopefully that’s enough to get the win. We just need to go there and bring everything that we’ve been bringing all year and the result will look after itself."
Bradley was pleased with his side's win in Dalymount Park but is adamant the level they've been playing at this season has been similar throughout.
"We're in a good spell at the moment but I feel we’ve been like that for quite some time. It’s just when you win games, your performances get highlighted even more.
"We’re doing okay but it would count for nothing if we don’t show up, respect the game and work extremely hard."
Sligo's two wins last week were very welcome but a scalp like Shamrock Rovers could really lift them in what is likely to be a fiercely competitive race for the top four.
Liam Buckley believe his side have the talent within their own group to trouble the visitors.
He said: "It should be a really good occasion on Friday night.
"We had a tight encounter up in Tallaght last month and I have no doubt it will be the same again.
"I thought we played some nice stuff at times last week and we had to be patient and thankfully the goal came late on and we got the win.
"Shamrock Rovers are a very good side, they are in good form and we know how tough a test it will be for us but we have some great qualities ourselves and we're looking forward to the game."
Max Mata missed returns from a muscle strain with Sligo set to have a full squad, as will Shamrock Rovers with Graham Burke declared fit.
St Patrick's Athletic v Derry City, Richmond Park, 7.45pm
Spectators in Richmond Park are in for a treat this evening in the eyes of Derry City boss Ruaidhri Higgins.
Two teams with lots of prowess in attack will clash in Dublin 8, with Higgins stressing the quality that Pat's possess going forward.
"We won that match late on at the Brandywell but we created a whole host of chances throughout the 90 minutes as well," he said.
"These are two sides who are likely to go at it - I know we're not going there to sit in and look for a point and I'm sure they won’t either.
"Tim did a brilliant job at Drogheda and is doing likewise at Pat's. He has some seriously good attacking options in his squad.
"People talk about Eoin Doyle and Chris Forrester and rightly so, but they also have the likes of Mark Doyle, Billy King, Darragh Burns, Ben McCormack and Tunde Owolabi.
"We have very good players of our own of course. Our lads always want to play on the front foot and it won’t be any different on Friday, so it should be an entertaining game."
Jack Malone (hip flexor) is the only fresh injury concern for the visitors.
Tim Clancy recognises the important of Pat's seeing off a high-level opponents having failed to do so since beating Shamrock Rovers early in the campaign.
"It's a big game and another important one for us at home. We're hoping to get a win. We took a lot of positives from our win over Finn Harps last Friday, there is still room for improvement, but keeping a clean sheet and scoring twice was important.
"We'll be looking to take the momentum of that win and the victory at UCD last Monday into Friday night against Derry and hopefully we'll get a win."
Jamie Lennon (foot) and Adam Murphy (hamstring) are unavailable, Paddy Barrett and Ben Curtis have both returned to full training and could be available for selection.
Dundalk v Drogheda United, Oriel Park, 7.45pm
Dundalk are seeking a fourth consecutive home win when Drogheda United make the short trip across Louth.
United have proved hard opponents for most teams this season and their win in Head in the Game Park was no fluke.
A large crowd is expected in Oriel for this derby clash. Evan Weir will sit out for Drogheda due to his red card last week, as will Dundalk winger Steven Bradley due to his dismissal against Shelbourne.
Dan Williams is doubtful for the home side but Robbie Benson is expected to be fit and John Mountney, who was an unused substitute against Shels, is back in full training after making a recovery from a serious knee injury.
Manager Stephen O'Donnell said: "Traditionally, derby games are always tight battles and they always have an extra bit of meaning, no matter where the two teams are in the league.
"There's always a competitive edge to it. For a lot of our lads, it’s their first taste of a proper derby at Oriel Park and we’re really looking forward to it.
"Drogheda had a bad start against Sligo Rovers last week and were two down after just five minutes but they came back into the game and lost it at the death after having a man sent off.
"Between the Jim Malone Cup and the first league game, they've beaten us twice this season so it’s not a case that we’re sleepwalking into the game on the back of two convincing wins over them this season.
"They’ve beaten us twice but, from our point of view, we’re really looking forward to it and we’ll be trying to take the momentum from last Friday’s win over Shelbourne into the game."
Finn Harps v Shelbourne, Finn Park, 8pm
There hasn't been many moments to smile for Finn Harps supporters this season.
One did come against Shelbourne in Tolka Park when a 3-0 scoreline seemed to indicate Harps were about to kick into life.
That didn't transpire, and it's been a tough time for Ollie Horgan and his players.
With Dave Webster out for the season and Ryan Connolly for a few weeks, it is not getting any easier.
Eric McWoods and Ethan Boyle will sit out tonight due to suspension.
Shels have no new injury concerns going into the game with David Toure and Sean McSweeney set to miss out with injury.
Shane Griffin, Sean Boyd and Aaron O'Driscoll sit out due to suspension.
Damien Duff feels his Shelbourne side is "fully prepared" for the game.
"It's probably one of the better times of year to go there with the weather but it’s a game where the players are going to have to show their personality.
"For 89 minutes last week we showed great concentration and yes there were positives, but we switched off for 60 seconds and you can see what happens."
Duff says his side was "devoid of energy" the last time the teams met at Tolka Park and knows a much improved performance will be required for "one of the toughest places to go in the league."
"The likes of Shamrock Rovers and Derry often struggle there so listen we know what we're facing on Friday.
"It’s a massive game but at the end of the day it’s the same amount of points on offer as any other game," he added.
Bohemians v UCD, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm
Bohemians have not been able to hit their previous heights so far this season but will be hopeful of enjoying a second home win of the campaign when UCD visit.
When Bohs saw off St Pat's 1-0 on the second night of the season, few would have predicted two winless months would go by in Dalymount Park.
This off-season saw Keith Long take a different path in terms of recruitment. Many managers spoke about just how difficult it was to recruit quality players, with a host of clubs chasing the top players out of contract.
Long admitted that the squad needs supplementing after just three victories from 12 so far this year.
"Recruitment is key to everything, the better players you have working with you the better performances you can put in.
"We're working with the players that we've got until such a time as we can strengthen the group to try and help them."
For now, Long will want to see his side try to pick up points with tricky away matches in Derry and Dundalk to come.
James Finnerty (knee) remains out for Bohs, while Stephen Mallon (ankle) is nearing fitness.
College took their first real hammering of the season last week and the table makes for grim reading.
It's another away assignment but they'll hope to take advantage of inconsistent Bohs.