The big games are coming thick and fast for Dundalk as the champions continue the defence of their league crown at home to Derry City tonight (7.45pm, live on RTÉ 2).
Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Shamrock Rovers means the leaders are now just five points clear of Cork City who have a game in hand but aren’t playing until tomorrow evening when they travel to the Showgrounds to face Sligo Rovers.
The visit of third-placed Derry to Oriel Park this evening, as well as being an important game at the top of the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, doubles as a dress rehearsal for next week’s FAI Cup semi-final, also at Oriel, between the two clubs.
But it’s all about league points tonight as Dundalk host what manager Stephen Kenny calls “a strong Derry City team who have had a good season to date”.
And despite those dropped points to Rovers, Kenny feels his side’s performance on Tuesday was still encouraging.
“I felt we played well and created a lot of chances but the winner just wouldn’t go in for us on the night,” he says.
“We are ready to go again and we are very focused on the Derry game. We have prepared well and we are looking forward to it.”
Captain Stephen O’Donnel also feels the draw with the Hoops didn’t reflect his team’s dominance.
“It was a frustrating night for us on Tuesday,” he says.
“We did enough to win the game. We had so many chances to win and so many chances to score on the night.
“Not getting the three points was disappointing.”
And despite being active on so many fronts, not least in the Europa League, O’Donnell insists the Lilywhites are not taking their eyes off the domestic prize.
“The league is our priority,” he says. “We want to progress and win the league again. We want to win every game and every three points is crucial to us. It’s a step closer to us winning the title once again but we know that we have to do that. It’s our main target. Derry are a good side but we are playing well and hopefully we can get the win.”
For Dundalk, Darren Meenan and Ciaran O’Connor are both rated as doubtful for tonight’s game while Derry will be without Ryan McBride, Gareth McGlynn and Aaron Barry.
But Aaron McEneff and Dean Jarvis are back from suspension for the Candystripes.
Says manager Kenny Shiels: “It would be wrong to isolate games but I believe that if we could win our next two (against Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers) we would be guaranteed a fourth place finish at least — that’s the motivation.”
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