Rovers tipped to stay top as Seagulls visit Tallaght

THEY might have fallen to Sligo in the EA Sports Cup semi-final but Shamrock Rovers still have their eyes on the big prize.

Three points clear at the top of the Airtricity League, the Hoops will be favourites to maintain their advantage this evening when they take on basement side Bray Wanderers at Tallaght Stadium (8pm).

However, with the Seasiders showing modest signs of an upturn in fortunes, Rovers boss Michael O’Neill is taking nothing for granted

“It’s nearly like facing a different Bray side than we have so far this year,” he says. “They have brought in quite a few new players and have a lot more experience now. They obviously did very well to beat Pat’s last week, and by all accounts they did likewise against Bohs during the week, despite losing. We’ll have a tough game on hands.”

Chris Turner (foot), Craig Sives (groin), Dessie Baker (achilles) and Pat Sullivan (knee) are all sidelined for Rovers through injury while Robert Bayly is suspended after receiving a red card against Drogheda.

But Bray have their problems too: team captain Daire Doyle is unavailable, while there are doubts about Shane O’Neill, who went off early in the defeat by Bohemians, and Adam Mitchell, who missed that game with a hamstring injury.

“I’m looking forward to going to Tallaght Stadium,” says Bray Director of Football Pat Devlin. “Games between Rovers and Bray are always good and tonight will be no different. We both come into the game following defeats and both sides will be anxious to get back to winning ways.”

St Patrick’s Athletic, second, three points behind Rovers, welcome in-form Sligo Rovers to Richmond Park (7.45). Ryan Guy returns for the Inchicore side after suspension but doubts remain over Paul Byrne and Damian Lynch who are struggling with ankle injuries.

“I travelled down to watch Sligo play Shamrock Rovers in mid-week and they were very impressive,” says manager Pete Mahon. “As a team they’ve got better as the season has gone on and are probably the best side in the league at the moment. Bray was a disappointing result but we’ve moved on and put last week’s game behind us”.

Although beset by financial worries, champions Bohemians are by no means out of the title race and will be looking to cut the five-point gap between themselves and the pacesetters when they take on Dundalk at Oriel Park (7.45pm). “There are still a few things we have to put right,” says Gypsies boss Pat Fenlon. “We have to keep the players focused on the job of winning”

For Bohs, there will be fitness tests for Raffaele Cretaro, Ken Oman and Brian Shelley, all carrying knocks, while, for Dundalk, goalkeeper Paul Murphy returns after being cup-tied and captain Liam Burns faces a fitness test following a heavy knock in the EA Sports defeat in Monaghan.

In this evening’s other Premier Division games, UCD are at home to Sporting Fingal and Galway United host Drogheda United at Terryland Park, both kicking off at 7.45pm.

In the First Division, it’s Munster derby time again as Cork City face Waterford United at Turner’s Cross (7.45). For the hosts, striker Graham Cummins is suspended and Stephen Mulcahy is still sidelined with a groin injury. City boss Tommy Dunne has several other injury doubts too, as a result of knocks picked up during the club’s heartening 1-0 win over leaders Derry City last week. Cillian Lordan and Greg O’Halloran are struggling with groin and hamstring problems, respectively, while Paul Deasy could miss out because of a knee injury. However, Neal Horgan and Eoghan Lougheed are available again.

With the side six points off second place and just 10 fixtures remaining, Dunne is preaching maximum concentration if Cork are to mount a challenge for a promotion play-off place.

“We have less and less time for errors now,” he says. “We’ve got to try and win every game.”

Waterford United will be without five first-choice players as, in addition to long-term absentee Shane Barrett, Michael Coady and Paul Murphy are serving bans for red cards received in a hard-fought win over Wexford Youths, Seamus Long is suspended and Alan Carey will be out for a further two weeks after damaging ligaments.

In tonight’s other First Division fixtures, it’s Limerick v Derry at Jackman Park (7.45), Monaghan United v Longford Town at Gortakeegan (8pm) and Finn Harps v Salthill Devon at Finn Park (8pm).

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