Shelbourne's opening results send out clear message to the challengers

THE opening performances of Shelbourne in defence of their Eircom League championship title have broadcast an unmistakable message that all challengers will do well to heed.

Manager Pat Fenlon expressed satisfaction at the manner in which his new strike partnership of Jason Byrne and Glen Fitzpatrick have settled three goals is an encouraging return.

He admitted he was more delighted with the success of the defence in maintaining two clean sheets to date and commented: "We have five or six defenders who we know can come in at any given opportunity. We've been forced to make changes but our return shows the quality we have."

The secret to Shelbourne's positive start is the competition for places at Tolka Park. Fenlon has a dressing-room full of talented and fit players ahead of their match against Drogheda United tonight at Tolka Park (7.45).

Ireland U21 international Wes Hoolahan, Kevin Doherty and Tony McCarthy are all available after recovering from injuries. Fenlon will be tempted to name an unchanged side after last week's convincing 2-0 victory over Derry City.

Drogheda United will be without David Freeman with an Achilles problem once again and, despite suffering two straight defeats, manager Paul Doolin has insisted he will not be pushing the panic button.

"I believe in the way we are playing and we're not going to change. It's just a matter of time before the results go our way" he said.

St Pat's will give Australian Con Blatsis his debut in midfield against Bohemians at Richmond Park tonight after the midfielder recovered from a hamstring problem and received international clearance to line out.

Also likely to start is Paul Osam who has recovered from a hip problem though Barry Prenderville is ruled out with an ankle problem that will force him to undergo an operation.

Bohemians welcome back Stephen Caffrey, from suspension, and Fergal Harkin, from a knee injury. They still have doubts over Tony Grant, struggling with a leg injury sustained in last week's 2-2 draw with Waterford United.

Robbie Doyle stands-by to replace Grant in attack after his impressive performance when coming on as a substitute last week.

Waterford United player-manager Alan Reynolds has urged his side to not get carried away after a solid start to the season believing the clash with Dublin City will be the toughest yet.

Waterford are unbeaten after two matches and their spirit when fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to draw 2-2 with Bohemians at Dalymount Park on Friday was exemplary.

Dublin City should be well within their compass but Reynolds warned: "Dublin City will be looking for the points and won't make it easy for us."

Reynolds is a doubt for the game with a hamstring problem though Mark Clifford returns to the squad and stands by to replace the manager in the team.

Dublin City are still without Tony O'Connor (knee) and Alan Keely (hamstring) and manager John Gill is expecting another tough game having already taken on Cork City away and FAI Cup holders Longford Town at home as they look for their first points of the season.

Cork City manager Pat Dolan is likely to have to make changes against Longford Town at Flancare Park tomorrow night (7.30 pm) for John O'Flynn, Neale Fenn and Kevin Doyle were all nursing injuries after last week's loss to Shamrock Rovers.

Dolan is hopeful all three will be fit enough to play but he must still be contemplating changes after an inconsistent start to the season with Billy Woods, Alan Bennett, Greg O'Halloran and Brendan Sweeney pushing for places in the team that starts.

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