The Lilywhites will welcome Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park for the first time this season and welcome fans into the ground for the first time since March with 100 fans allowed into the Louth venue with the county at Level 1 of the ‘Living with COVID-19’ government plan.
It is a fixture in front of RTÉ’s live TV cameras with a kick off at 7.30pm that really Filippo Giovagnoli could probably do without ahead of their crucial one-legged Europa League play-off next Thursday against Ki Klaksvik. The club had looked to get the fixture called off having travelled back from Moldova late in the early hours of Friday morning.
The FAI had facilitated the cancellation of last week’s game against Cork City but not this time around with Dundalk having got a favourable draw and getting to play their first home European fixture this season.
Gary Rogers was one of the main heroes in Dundalk’s dramatic penalty shootout against Sheriff Tiraspol. On the night he extended the record of appearances in Europe for a League of Ireland and on the eve of his 39th birthday, he saved Faith Obilor’s spot kick to set up Chris Shields to win the tie with the decisive fifth penalty in the shootout.
“Thursday night was a fantastic win for us,” said Rogers speaking to his club’s media team. “We worked our socks off and it was no more than we deserved. It was brilliant and since both Filippo and Giuseppe have come in it has been fantastic. We have really kicked on and Thursday against Sheriff was a brilliant performance.
“The European games are the pinnacle of your career. For me, it is great to be performing at this level and at my ripe old age! We have a brilliant opportunity to go on in the playoff. We want to make history and get to the Europa League group stages which is always the objective of this group. I think people are sick of talking about 2016.”
Before that crucial test though they must face Stephen Bradley’s side in domestic action. Dundalk are the last team to beat Shamrock Rovers in domestic action. That was in their league clash in Oriel a year ago this week when they won 3-2.
They have met twice since then with the Rovers winning the FAI Cup via a penalty shootout in November and the Hoops beating the Lilywhites 3-2 in Tallaght in February – the President’s Cup tie that month never went ahead after its postponement due to the weather.
“Shamrock Rovers are a good side and we are focused. We are familiar with them and know what kind of players that they have.
“They are having a good season and are top so we know it’s going to be a difficult game but we go into it with a lot of confidence after Thursday and hopefully we can get the three points we need.”
Filippo Giovagnoli is likely to rest a number of players ahead of their Europa League play-off although with Chris Shields suspended for that game he is likely to start. Andy Boyle is also available for the Italian manager as he returns from suspension.
The Hoops have a chance to extend their lead at the top of the table to eight points again over Bohs with a win in Oriel Park that would also move them 18 points clear of the Lilywhites. They come into the game still unbeaten in domestic action this season, having scored 13 goals and only conceding one in their last five games across the league and FAI Cup.
They spread the goals across six different goalscorers in last Monday’s 6-1 win over Waterford, showing no headache from their 2-0 loss to Milan in the Europa League qualifier last week.
“After the hype of the Milan game, I think the players deserve credit for their attitude and application to the game,” said Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley speaking to shamrockrovers.ie about the Waterford match in Tallaght. “There was no doubt that they were in the right frame of mind and ready to play.
“It was good to see that we didn’t settle for 2 or 3-0, we kept going. We hit the post twice in the second half as well so we kept pushing which was pleasing.
“We pride ourselves on clean sheets, it’s something we talk about and work really hard so we don’t concede goals. We’re disappointed when we give away the type of goal we gave away. There were so many areas where we should have done better. It’s a good finish from Michael [O’Connor] but it’s a poor goal from our point of view.”
The win over Waterford was rounded out by 20-year-old Dean Williams scoring his first Premier Division goal scoring of one of three Jack Byrne assists on the night. “Dean has worked extremely hard behind the scenes and his attitude has been excellent. I’m delighted he took his chance and put it away. Hopefully it’s the start of many goals for this club.”
Last season Dundalk and Rovers went head-to-head in both the league and FAI Cup with the Lilywhites winning out in the league and the Hoops prevailing on penalties in the cup and Stephen Bradley acknowledged that it will “a tough game” against their rivals.
“We know that they’re full of quality players throughout their squad and it’s going to be a difficult game but one that we’re really looking forward to. It’s the two best teams in the country so when you have that there’s always going to be big games and rivalries. There’s a healthy respect there, from both sets of players, but that’s what you expect when the top two meet.”
Pico Lopes is expected to be available for Rovers after coming off late on against Waterford as a precaution and Danny Lafferty is available again after picking up an injury on the eve of the game against Milan.
Referee: Rob Harvey.
Dundalk won three and drew one of the league encounters between the sides last season. It was a scoreless draw in their first clash last season before the Lilywhites won 2-1 and 3-2 at home either side of a 1-0 win in Tallaght.
The Hoops haven’t won in Oriel Park for over two years. August 2018 was their last victory with Pico Lopes and a Dylan Watts late penalty earning the Hoops a 2-1 win after Michael Duffy had equalised early in the second half.
Graham Burke is the top scorer for Rovers in the league this season with six goals, one ahead of Aaron Greene and Jack Byrne.
Dundalk 9/2; Draw 13/5; Shamrock Rovers 11/20.
2-1 away win.
Doubtful: Dane Massey.
Injured: Rory Gaffney.