Derry look to bounce back to top spot

WE MIGHT be only seven games into the season but predictions that the League of Ireland title race would be a tight affair this year are already being given credence by a table in which just five points separates the top four, with plenty of other teams not too much further off the pace.

And with champions and leaders Bohemians not in action until tomorrow when they visit Sligo Rovers, the chasing pack of Derry City, Galway United and Cork City will all be looking to close the gap in tonight’s round of games (all kick offs 7.45pm).

Having surprisingly lost out to Sligo last week, second-placed Derry City travel to the Carlisle Grounds where the reward for a win would a place back at the head of the table.

“We have to bounce back from the disappointment of Friday’s defeat,” says assistant manager Alan Reynolds. “There is no doubt that Bray will provide stiff opposition — we suffered there last year — and to be in with a chance of the three points we will have to be at our best. We spurned a few good chances last week, but at least we are still creating chances and that’s a positive.”

Derry will be missing Clive Delaney (back), Gerard Doherty (knee) and Kevin Deery (knee) while Bray will once again be without Derek Pender whose knee injury is slow to respond to treatment. The good news for Wanderers boss Eddie Gormley is that he could have both Paddy Kavanagh and Dave Mulcahy back if they come through late fitness tests.

Third-placed Galway United host Shamrock Rovers at Terryland Park with the Tribesman boosted by Derek O’Brien being given the March Player of the Month award by the Soccer Writers of Ireland.

The winger, who faces a fitness test ahead of tonight’s game, wasted no time in coming back to haunt his old club, St Patrick’s Athletic, when he scored twice in Galway’s opening day 3-0 win away from home, a victory which set them up for an unexpectedly positive start to the season.

“I’m not going to exaggerate, it’s a better start than I could have hoped for,” said O’Brien. “But I wasn’t expecting us to struggle like people were saying. We were practically told we were relegated before the start. Now, we’re up there with the likes of Bohs and Derry so we must be doing something right but I’d prefer to be there towards the end of the season.”

Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O’Neill also gives a nod of approval to this evening’s opponents.

“They’ve had a great start to their season, especially as a lot of people were tipping them to be facing a relegation battle,” he says. “We know this will be a very tough game for us but we’re unbeaten in our last four games so we’ve built up a bit of momentum. A win against Galway would put us above them in the table — and that’s what we’ll be looking for.”

Last Friday, Rovers shared the spoils at home with Cork City who tonight make their debut on the artificial surface at Oriel Park against Dundalk.

The Lilywhites have doubts over a number of players including Thomas Heary, Liam Burns and Declan O’Brien while Simon Kelly will be unavailable following his red card against Bray Wanderers last Friday.

The game will see Turner’s Cross cult hero George O’Callaghan coming up against his former side, as Cork look to maintain their unbeaten run. However, victory over the Kerry League in the EA Sports Cup came at a cost for City who have lost full back Neal Horgan for up to five weeks with a dislocated elbow. Robert Mezeckis played in Tralee but will not feature tonight as he is struggling with an achilles injury.

Otherwise, manager Paul Doolin expresses satisfaction with the campaign so far.

“I’m quite happy with how things are going,” he says. “It’s still early in the season and we are on a decent run of four wins and a draw in five games. If we can pick up a win against Dundalk, it would be fantastic. It certainly will not be easy, but we have to go there looking for the three points, which would set us up nicely as we have a couple of home games coming up then.”

In tonight’s other game, out-of-sorts St Patrick’s Athletic will be favourites to get back to winning ways against basement side Drogheda United at Richmond Park.

For Pats, Glen Fitzpatrick and Noel Haverty join Gary Dempsey, Mark Leech, Gints Freimans and Bobby Ryan on the injured list while Dave Partridge is suspended, but Gareth O’Connor has recovered from a thigh injury.

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