Derry City will aim to reduce Shamrock Rovers' lead at the top tonight when they host Dundalk at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium.

Just weeks on from holding a six-point advantage, Derry now trail by seven points with this their game in hand following the Hoops win over UCD.

The Candystripes gained plenty of praise for their performance in an unfortunate defeat to the champions last week, laying down a marker that they will be a long-term challenger.

While that was a major comfort in defeat, failing to keep up with Stephen Bradley’s side would be disappointing and tonight’s game will certainly be one of their hardest of the series.

Dundalk have been a force at Oriel Park but have not been able to replicate that on the road. Just five of the 25 points accumulated so far this campaign have been won away from home.

Stephen O’Donnell’s side have moved into third place and their rivals in the race for European places have played a game more.

With such an impressive record at home, a first away victory of the season would put them in an even stronger position.

In defeating Bohemians last week, they moved clear of Keith Long’s side.

Last like week, it’s another critical set for fixtures in the race for Europe. Two sides struggling to keep the pace are Bohs and Sligo Rovers and they meet in Dalymount.

Sligo have won just two of their last 11 games, while the upturn for Bohs came to an end in Dundalk.

Defeat for either side will leave them playing catch-up.

St Patrick’s Athletic have found more of a steel since their heavy defeat to Derry and a point in Sligo was a decent outcome last week.

With the teams in and around them meeting tonight, they face a Shelbourne side on the rise.

Damien Duff’s men recorded successive wins for the first time this season when beating Drogheda and another would move them to the verge of a top half place.

Finally there’s another vital game at the bottom. Finn Harps were hit with a hammer blow in losing to UCD and travel to their other main rival in Head in the Game Park.

Again, any victor in this game will take a major step towards avoiding automatic relegation and even the play-off.

Derry City v Dundalk, Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium, 7.45pm

Will Patching comes up against his former side

Second plays third in this fixture, with the home side looking to close on the leaders and Dundalk aiming to reel Derry in.

Victory for Stephen O'Donnell’s men would see them close the gap on the Candystripes to just four points, with a game in hand.

City manager Ruaidhri Higgins feels the Louth side have moved into contention very quietly and insists that his side know this will be another very tough night.

"They've really come in under the radar, but it's no surprise give the amount of serial trophy winners at the club," he said.

"They've done very well to stay quiet given their form over the last couple of months but we're in no doubt we'll have to be at our best if we want to win the game."

"They've got a great manager and staff and they know how to win."

Higgins confirmed that Jack Malone would return to the squad after a hip flexor injury. Patrick McEleney is out with injury so he won't face his former side while Cameron McJannett remains a major doubt.

His counterpart and friend, Stephen O'Donnell, is a former colleague.

This was the first fixture of the season for both sides and O'Donnell feels his side are making good progress.

"We're looking forward to the game," he said.

"Derry is one of the toughest places in the league to go at the minute but we’re on a good run and a lot of players are playing with confidence and freedom."

Andy Boyle is suspended for the Lilywhites.

St Patrick's Athletic v Shelbourne, Richmond Park, 7.45pm

Damien Duff's side are somewhat depleted

After three away matches in succession, St Pat's are back in Richmond Park for this Dublin derby meeting.

There's been lots of ups and down for these sides since the opening televised fixture with Pat's were impressive in a 3-0 win.

Pat's boss Tim Clancy is looking forward to a rematch with their Dublin rivals.

Clancy said: "We played really well the last time we played Shels and scored three really good goals and kept a clean sheet that night so it was a great start to the season.

"Shelbourne have had a couple of good wins recently and will be coming into the game with loads of confidence after their win in Derry a few weeks ago and their last two wins at home.

"It's certainly a game that we are looking forward to, it's another Dublin derby at home in front of our own fans, we're up for it, we're hoping for a good performance and a win."

Damien Duff has joked that he could be calling on the club's supporters to play in the match due to an injury crisis.

They will monitor a number of injuries in the squad before tomorrow after Brian McManus, Dan Hawkins and Sean McSweeney were among those missing last week.

"We're probably facing the most amount of injuries we’ve had this year," Duff commented.

"But the lads can’t wait and are obviously in good form with the two wins on the bounce. It’s the first time the club has done that in nine years which is important to make these little markers on the way together," he added.

"If there’s any time in the season that we need the fans it’s now to pull us through to the summer break."

The Shels boss and coach Alan Quinn will serve the last of their suspensions in the game.

Bohemians v Sligo Rovers, Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

Bohemians and Sligo Rovers are looking for a win to lift the mood at their respective clubs

Supporters of both these clubs have expressed concerns in recent weeks. Keith Long and Liam Buckley have brought European qualifications and cup runs to the respective clubs in the last number of seasons.

In a league becoming more and more competitive, these are two sides without the backing of large investors and aiming to stay with the big spenders.

Nevertheless, there are expectations to improve for Bohs and Sligo so it makes this meeting an important one.

Sligo boss Liam Buckley feels it will be a close match: "The team have trained well this week and we have almost a fully fit squad to chose from which always helps.

"We were better on Saturday against St Pats and we need to bring those performance levels into the next games starting this Friday night in Dalymount Park.

"Games against Bohs are always nip and tuck and we’ve had some close battles with them over the last couple of seasons and we know that Friday will again be a tight game so we’ll need to be at the top of our game to get the result we want."

Max Mata remains out following a calf injury picked up against Shamrock Rovers. Nando Pijnaker may be back in contention to start if he is passed fit to play and Jordan Hamilton should return having missed last week's game against St Patrick’s Athletic.

Drogheda United v Finn Harps, Head in the Game Park, 7.45pm

It's been a struggle for Finn Harps and Ollie Horgan this campaign

Despite the setback against UCD, which really compounded a bad year so far for Finn Harps, manager Ollie Horgan is trying to keep spirits up.

Horgan is welcoming back some of the players missing in recent weeks,

He added: "Drogheda are a very good side and we played out a very close game with them at Finn Park a few weeks ago. It's very tight down the bottom between themselves, ourselves and UCD so it’s vital that we come away with something.

"We’ll hopefully have a couple of bodies back in contention over the coming weeks which should give us a lift. We’ve had terrible luck on that front to start the year but we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. Every game in this division is a battle, and that’s what we’ll continue to do."

David Webster misses out through injury, while Elie-Gael N’Zeyi, Mark Timlin and Barry McNamee are doubts.

Drogheda have also been running on empty recently with four defeats on the bounce, including a very costly one to Shels.

Again, these two sides are desperate for the points so a fiercely competitive contest is likely.