Declaring St Patrick’s Athletic can challenge champions Shamrock Rovers is one thing but Paddy Barrett can prove it in tonight’s top-of-the-table clash at Tallaght.
While Sligo Rovers have lost ground on Rovers lately, the Saints remain deadlocked with the Hoops at the summit.
Victory at Tallaght for the first time in five years would hand them the initiative with 14 matches remaining.
“On our day, if we have a full squad and everyone is at it, we're well capable of competing with Shamrock Rovers,” said Barrett, a two-time league winner during his spell at Dundalk.
“I think it's a failure for Rovers if they don't win the league, whereas our own expectation is to finish as high up the table. But, regarding league titles, I don't think that's in our mindset just yet.”
Downplaying their expectancy levels has been a hallmark of Pat’s under Stephen O’Donnell, a young manager in his first full 36 game season. Yet, backboned by a rump of Dundalk’s golden generation of winners, they’ve quietly plotted a challenge, free of the distraction European football is causing to rivals at this congested point of the season.
“We’re in a good position in the league, one probably nobody expected us to be apart from ourselves internally,” noted O’Donnell ahead of an occasion to be attended by 1,500 fans. “There's no real pressure on us.”
To maintain that trajectory, eliminating costly late lapses are imperative. Pat’s thought they’d nicked a late win at Tallaght in March until Aaron Greene was allowed space to head in the equaliser. Likewise, defensive hesitancy contributed to Danny Mandroiu nipping for the winner at Inchicore.
Barrett insists it's high time the Saints started to reflect their dominance in such duels by finishing the job.
“I didn’t play in the last match but thought we were the better team on the day,” the centre-back said.
“We had a lot more of the ball but didn't create enough clear cut chances and got done by a sucker punch at the end.
“We know the attacking force Rovers have. Every one of their players in that area are top quality, be it Aaron Greene, Rory Gaffney, Graham Burke, Danny Mandroiu or Richie Towell.
“It's not one of them you're looking after but we have to limit their chances and hope to keep a clean sheet.”
Mandroiu and Sean Hoare return to the Rovers squad, while Pat’s will be missing the suspended Matty Smith.
At Head In the Game Park, Drogheda can expect a much stiffer test to their last meeting with Waterford in May when they walloped the U19s 7-0.
That was due to Waterford’s entire squad being stood down due a Covid-19 outbreak but since Marc Bricham’s arrival as manager and an influx of new recruits during this window, they’ve stabilised.
Drogheda will be shorn of two defensive mainstays, James Brown and Dane Massey, following their red cards in last week’s FAI Cup defeat to Derry City but Anthony Wordsworth will be available for Waterford. He’ll serve his suspension in the next FAI Cup tie against Kilnamanagh AFC at the end of August.
SSE Airtricity Premier Division: Shamrock Rovers v St. Patrick's Athletic, Tallaght Stadium, 8pm; Drogheda United v Waterford, HITG Park, 7.45pm.