Bray Wanderers will be hoping to ease their relegation fears when they travel to United Park to face in-form Drogheda United, kick-off 7.45pm.
Following Cup heartbreak at the hands of Derry City in the FAI Cup quarter-final replay, the Drogs returned to league action in impressive fashion on Saturday as they recorded a 2-0 win against Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds, a victory that manager Damien Richardson considers the biggest win of his tenure to date.
“The victory in Sligo was the pinnacle of my time here so far,” Richardson declared on Thursday. “Except for Gary O’Neill and Cathal Brady, it was the first time that I had a virtually fully fit squad to choose from and it showed in our performance.
"It was a very impressive display and we should have won by more but Firday night will pose a different test. We need to be as assured at home as we are in our away games against what will be a strong Bray Wanderers side.”
Drogheda have risen up the table since the change in management during the midseason break as the combination of Richardson and his assistant Darius Kierans have amassed a total of 20 points from the 30 available. Currently sitting in seventh place in the table, the former Cork City manager is now eyeing up a top five finish to complete a remarkable turnaround for the Boynesiders.
“I was confident when I took the job that the team would make progress but to make so much in such a short space of time has surprised me. That was encapsulated in the performance last Saturday which was deeply satisfying to watch.
"I then challenged the players afterwards to overtake Sligo in the league table. The gap is only four points and that is an achievable target for the group. The team is playing very well at the moment and long may that continue.“
While Dubliner believes that the Seagulls will avoid relegation, he is expecting the visitors to travel north in search of victory and has stressed the importance of his side matching Bray’s work rate.
“I must say that I think Bray will stay up but it is never easy playing a side with such a huge incentive. It is vital that we match their intensity and desire from the start. We were in their position a few weeks ago and I know that Bray will do their utmost to achieve what we have so we must respect that. The key to a positive result will be determination and honesty.”
Drogheda will be without the suspended Garreth Brady, Shane Grimes and Peter McGlynn. Brady and Grimes have one match bans to serve while McGlynn has been handed an additional two games following his red card in the FAI Cup quarter-final home tie against Derry. Gary O’Neill is rated as doubtful as he as he is struggling with a groin injury while Cathal Brady looks set to miss out with a hamstring complaint.
Bray Wanderers come into Friday’s game off the back of a disappointing home defeat to St. Patrick’s Athletic last Friday. The Seagulls went 1-0 up early on following the dismissal of Ken Oman for St. Pat's but still came away empty handed as their defensive deficiencies reared their head again.
Goals from Chris Forrester, Keith Fahey and a double from the league’s leading scorer Conan Byrne sealed a 2-4 win for the Saints and consigned Bray to their 16 defeat of the season.
While the concession of goals will be of concern to manger Alan Mathews, it is the other end of the pitch where they have really struggled. The Seagulls have only found the back of the net on 24 occasions, the fewest number of any side in the premier division.
Bray are currently three points above UCD in the relegation playoff position but will be wary given that the Students have a game in hand to be played against Shamrock Rovers on Tuesday.
Speaking ahead of the crunch clash, Mathews said "with the squad coming back to full strength we are looking forward to our trip to Drogheda."
The only injury doubt for Bray is defender Michael Barker who has been struggling with an ankle injury. Rob Maloney will be available having missed the St. Pat’s game due to suspension.
Referee: Padraigh Sutton
This will be the 54th meeting between the sides, Drogheda have recorded 23 wins to Bray's 17.
Bray have only one win away from home all season, a 2-0 victory at United Park back in April.
Declan O’Brien is Drogheda’s leading goal scorer this season having netted his 12th of the campaign against Sligo Rovers last Saturday.
Drogheda United 1/2, Draw 3/1, Bray Wanderers 5/1
Drogheda United 2-1 Bray Wanderers
Injured: Cathal Brady
Doubtful: Gary O’Neill
Suspended: Shane Grimes, Garreth Brady, Peter McGlynn
Doubtful: Michael Barker