Shamrock Rovers could clinch their 19th League of Ireland title when they host Finn Harps at the Tallaght Stadium on Friday night (kick off 7.45pm with game live on RTÉ).
All the ingredients for a party like atmosphere and celebration seem to have fallen into place for Rovers, it’s a home game, in excess of 6,000 home fans are expected to flock to Tallaght Stadium and their opposition are lying second from last in the league table with a massive 31 points separating the two sides.
Rovers have amassed 69 points from 32 games played so even if they fail to pick up all three points against Harps, and assuming St Patricks Athletic don’t slip up away to Longford, they have three more opportunities to do so against Waterford and Bohemians (both away) or at home against Drogheda United before the 2021 season concludes on November 19th.
The Hoops come into their second last home game of the season on the back of some very good form having only lost once in their last eight outings so they will be red hot favourites to overturn Ollie Horgan’s side.
A win and all three points will set the wheels in motion for major celebrations at Tallaght and render their last three games irrelevant as their nearest rivals St Patricks Athletic cannot reach the 72 points total which Rovers will have should they do the business against Harps.
Rovers have finished the season very strongly but as well as all the stalwarts they can also thank some of the less heralded players for their contributions at the latter stages of the season.
The gap left by the departure of Liam Scales was filled seamlessly by the signing of Barry Cotter from Ipswich Town and he has been highly impressive in his short time at the club.
Aidomo Emakhu, who turned 18 this week, made his first team debut in May against Derry City and is now providing strong competition for the more season players in the attacking third of the pitch.
After a lengthy layoff through injury, left winger Neil Farrugia returned to action in recent weeks and he is slowly returning to the scintillating play for which he was renowned prior to his injury.
Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley spoke to the media during the week and with reference to the challenge likely to be posed by Harps.
“They beat us up there in Finn Park in September last time and deserved to beat us," said Bradley. "They also took a point from Tallaght in June and I’m sure they feel they should have won the game in the last minute with Sean Boyd’s header.
"They’re fighting for points as well, down at the other end of the table. We know it’s going to be a very difficult game, but we’ve worked from day one in pre-season to put ourselves in a position like this. We’ve got to make sure that we’re focused on that.”
Rovers moved into Tallaght Stadium in 2009 but have never clinched a league in the ground. 1994 was the last time the club did it at home (at the RDS). The opportunity now to win it in front of their own fans is a point not lost on Bradley.
“It would mean a lot. We’ve spoken about it as a group. We’ve always wanted to take it to this point, a home game that gives us an opportunity to win it in front of our fans and our families. We know if we can do that tomorrow night it’ll be a special occasion.”
Finn Harps have slipped down to ninth position in the league table and are now in a dog fight with Waterford and Dundalk in a bid to avoid a relegation play-off.
They have five games left to ensure they retain their Premier Division status for 2022 with the toughest of those games probably being this away clash with Shamrock Rovers.
Three of their other games are at home where they have a good record this season but their last away match of the season is also a tough ask, away to St. Patrick’s Athletic on November 12th.
Ollie Horgan will be in no mood to facilitate the party atmosphere in Tallaght on Friday night and his team are very dogged and resilient and often perform best when carrying the underdog tag.
“When you need to be putting points on the board, I can’t think of many worse places to be going,” said Horgan speaking to FinnHarps.ie. “Shamrock Rovers will have a packed crowd now on Friday night and they’ll all be expecting a big result to clinch the league title for them.
“It’s a massive ask for us to get anything out of the game, and we have another huge game against Drogheda on Monday night to think about too. There are a lot of lads carrying knocks and we’ll have to do our best to manage them and give ourselves a chance of getting a result somewhere.”
His side will be boosted by their performance last weekend when they came from 2-0 down at home to Sligo Rovers with 10 men and only four minutes of normal time remaining to snatch an unlikely 2-2 draw.
Following the fifth minute dismissal of Kosovar Sadiki, Sean Boyd gave them a lifeline with a goal in the 86th minute with Karl O’ Sullivan getting the dramatic equaliser in the fourth minute of additional time.
The bigger picture however is that they have won only once in their last eight games and as a result now sit precariously in second last place on 38 points, just above already relegated Longford Town.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Rovers generally have had the upper hand on Harps winning six and drawing once in the last eight matches between the sides.
The only victory to Harps in fact was in the most recent encounter between the sides in Donegal on Sept 3rd. Rovers failed to score in that match with Jordan Mustoe and Tunde Owolabi scoring for Harps and Adam Foley also conceding an own goal in the 70th minute.
Shamrock Rovers 3/10; Draw 7/2: Finn Harps 17/2.
Shamrock Rovers 3-0 Finn Harps
Injured: Sean Kavanagh
Doubtful: Ronan Finn.
Doubtful: Ger Doherty, Johnny Dunleavy, Adam Foley, Mark Timlin, Ryan Rainey, Ethan Boyle
Suspended: Kosovar Sadiki
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