1. Can Fabio fire Drogheda past Cork?
Coming into this weekend Cork remain the only unbeaten team in the top flight, a run built on their defence which has been positively miserly in conceding only three goals.
Tonight they face a man in red-hot form. Declan ‘Fabio’ O’Brien has already scored seven goals this season including a hat-trick against Athlone a fortnight ago.
Drogheda were unbeaten themselves until last week’s defeat against Bray, a result which manager Robbie Horgan partly put down to fatigue, and he has his sights set on ending Cork’s streak.
“Their impressive start doesn’t surprise me with the talent that they have in their squad,” Horgan said, “but unbeaten runs are made to be broken as we found out last week.”
2. Dundalk and Rovers ready to serve up the main course
When Dundalk lost to Drogheda on the opening day of the season, the instinctive reaction of many was to write them off straight away. Since then they have bolted to the top of the league with five wins and a draw, as well as sealing their place in the Setanta Cup final with a win against Shamrock Rovers on Tuesday.
Neither Stephen Kenny nor Trevor Croly played their full hand in that game — Dundalk have Kurtis Byrne and captain Stephen O’Donnell to return while the Hoops can welcome back half-a-dozen or more first-teamers.
Tuesday’s appetiser might have been a bit bland but the main course tonight has all the ingredients to be a beauty.
3. Can Bohs make life hard for the Pat’s midfield?
St Pat’s haven’t started the season with the authority of champions and though they have won their last two in the league, a 4-1 defeat to Dundalk prior to that and Monday’s Setanta Cup drubbing against Sligo are plenty of reason for concern.
Tonight they host a Bohs side who have been criticised for their negative approach, but their high work-rate and relentless pressing has still caused their opponents a bit of a headache.
There’s no guarantee that Pat’s will have it all their own way, particularly as two of their main midfielders — Killian Brennan and Greg Bolger — serve suspensions for their red cards against Dundalk.
4. Sligo need to kick on
Few would have been brave enough to predict that after seven games, Sligo would be sitting second from bottom with just one win to their name.
Everything that could go wrong for them has gone wrong, not least their inability to score (they only have four goals in the league so far).
If their 5-1 win against St Pat’s on Monday night can’t kick-start their season, nothing will. They need to follow up this evening against a UCD side who look capable of taking points off any other team.
5. Who are the strangers in the black?
A team of Welsh match officials will take charge of tonight’s game between Bray Wanderers and Derry City at the Carlisle Grounds.
Referee Iwan Griffith will be joined by Ashley Jones and Tom Williams while Dave McKeon — fresh from his penalty mistake in Inchicore last week — is the fourth official.
The appointments are part of an ongoing FAI exchange programme which helps prepare the refs for European and international matches.
SSE Airtricity League fixtures (kick-off Friday, 7.45pm unless stated)
- Bray Wanderers v Derry City (Friday, 5pm)
- Cork City v Drogheda United
- Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers
- Limerick v Athlone Town
- St Patrick’s Athletic v Bohemians
- Sligo Rovers v UCD
- Waterford United v Shamrock Rovers
- Shelbourne v Cobh Ramblers (Friday, 8pm)
- Wexford Youths v Galway (Friday, 8pm)
- Longford Town v Finn Harps (Saturday, 7.30pm)