Shelbourne v Shamrock Rovers (Tolka Park, 8pm)
THANK YOU, WESTLIFE. After a three-week break for Euro 2012 the Airtricity League resumes tonight in Drumcondra, a night early on the advice of Gardaí anxious to avoid a clash between the footballing faithful and Croke Park concert-goers. Hey, who’s complaining?
Shelbourne welcome their one-time tenants Shamrock Rovers for the first Premier Division clash between the sides in Tolka Park for five seasons. The old Ringsend Derby has been shelved by the ups and downs of both clubs in recent years but Rovers were quick to assert their dominance when the rivalry resumed in Tallaght earlier this season, cruising to a 4-0 win after Shels keeper Dean Delany conceded a penalty and was sent off within three minutes.
How Hoops boss Stephen Kenny would love a repeat of that result tonight, under any circumstances. The champions have won just twice in their last eight league outings, a dispiriting run which stretches back to the beginning of April and has seen them concede the initiative in the title race to Sligo Rovers. The Bit O’Red are idle this week following Monaghan United’s decision to withdraw from the league, and so Rovers can move back to within five points of the top with a win.
“The squad has worked very hard during the break,” Kenny said. “Now they need to apply themselves in Thursday night’s game and show just how hard they’ve worked.”
We are expecting a tough game against Shelbourne and the team will need to perform well if they are to get a result. But they know that and are keen do well in the game and get the win.
Alan Mathews has taken no heed of Rovers’ patchy performances though and the Shelbourne boss firmly believes that the southsiders have the class to bounce back and win their third successive league title.
Should Shelbourne take all three points tonight they would leapfrog their rivals, though Rovers have played a game less.
“Shamrock Rovers are the reigning champions and I believe they are the team most likely to win the league again this season,” Mathews said. “They have the strongest squad in the League with quality and competition for every position on the pitch.
We go into the game with confidence and a positive attitude. We know a good performance will be required to achieve the three points on offer, but I firmly believe that we have the players to take on any side this season.
For Shelbourne, Glenn Cronin is suspended while Philly Gorman faces a match-day fitness test on his injured ankle. Lorcan Fitzgerald and Stephen Hurley have both resumed full training following lengthy spells on the sideline and may feature.
Shamrock Rovers are without Killian Brennan and Stephen Rice who serve one-game suspensions for collecting four yellow cards. Defender Sean Gannon is ruled out with an ankle injury.