League of Ireland preview: Should they prevail against Bray Wanderers at the Carlisle Grounds tonight, Dundalk can at least create the temporary illusion of a two-horse title race at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.
Victory for the defending champions would cut Cork City’s lead to 12 points but, of course, the Leesiders — who along with Shamrock Rovers and Derry have been in European action this week — would still have two games in hand with which to restore, if they can, their current 18-point advantage.
Still, for their visit to third-placed Bray, the Lilywhites will feel confident about closing the gap a little on the back of an impressive run since the mid-season break.
“It has always been the plan to win the games immediately after we came back,” says midfielder Chris Shields. “We wanted to get on the front foot early in the second half of the season. We had a bit of a disappointing first half of the season but we have come back well and that is three games, three wins and three clean sheets. We want to keep it going now.”
Stephen Kenny has a full squad to choose from, Bray will be without suspended duo Tim Clancy and Derek Foran.
But manager Harry Kenny is heartened by his own side’s return to form.
“Our two results after the mid-season break have been very satisfying with a good 3-2 victory at home to Derry City and an excellent 2-1 away win in Galway last Friday. These results were very important after our indifferent run of form prior to the break. Dundalk come to the Carlisle in very good form scoring twelve goals in their last three games and seem to have rediscovered the form that brought them all that success last season. We will have to be at our very best if we’re to achieve a positive result.”
Dundalk last night confirmed they have completed the signing of Dylan Connolly from this evening’s opponents.
In a big clash of the bottom two, St Patrick’s Athletic host Galway United at Richmond Park, with Liam Buckley knowing the stakes are high.
“We’re heading into this game knowing that the onus is on us to take the initiative,” says the Pat’s boss. “Galway are a good side and have picked some good results this season, so we’d expect them to come to Inchicore and really test us.”
For the home side, Kurtis Byrne (hamstring) will get a late fitness test but skipper Ian Bermingham (suspension) and Darren Dennehy (ankle) miss out.
“It’s a huge game for both sides,” says Galway manager Shane Keegan, for whom Gavan Holohan is rated doubtful. “The fact that they’re the home team, they probably feel they must win. With us being away, we probably feel like it’s a must not lose game, although obviously the intention is very much for us to go there and try and win it.
“There is nobody under any illusions about the game. It’s the start of a five-week run that’s probably going to decide where we finish in the league table and it’s really important that we get off to a good start.”
Tonight’s only other Premier Division fixture sees Drogheda United at home to Limerick while, in the First Division, Shelbourne host Waterford at Tolka Park and Wexford welcome UCD to Ferrycarrig Park (8pm).
Unless stated, tonight’s matches kick off at 7.45pm.
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