League Preview: Shelbourne -v- Cork City
Two teams with very contrasting objectives for the end of the 2023 season clash at Tolka Park on Friday night when Shelbourne host Cork City with a 7.45pm kick off.
Shelbourne have one very clear aim in their third last home game of the season and that is to pick up enough points to enable them grab one of the top four places and deliver European football next year.
They stand a great chance of achieving that aim as they currently sit on 46 points, only a single point behind Bohemians and four points adrift of third-placed St Patricks Athletic.
Shels have a trip to Dalymount Park next up on Monday night so their fate this season could well be sealed as a result of their next two fixtures over this weekend.
They were on a five-game unbeaten run prior to the International Break, picking up 11 points out of a maximum of 15, so they will be hoping the extended break did not upset their rhythm.
They have maintained the record of having the best defensive record in the league right through the season, with only 20 goals scored against them, an average of 0.7 goals per game.
Their last game before the break saw them defeat St Patricks Athletic at home, new signing Euclides Cabral scoring his first goal for the club to make it 1-1 in the 80th minute and the game then went into six minutes of injury time. Paddy Barrett scored a dramatic winner with a bullet like header the 91st minute to send Damian Duff and their followers home very happy.
Duff spoke to the Shelbourne media team ahead of the visit of City and said: “Being highly motivated and highly focused when you’re approaching every game, do that and there’s no room to be complacent.
“But lads have been warned, they need to focus, the staff try to give them prods and help them prepare but players know they need to give the opposition every respect.
“They’re coming here and it’s a huge game for Cork, so we need to show what it means for us and I’m sure we will tomorrow night.”
Cork City have one clear goal between now and the end of the season and that is climb out of ninth position on the league table and avoid being dragged into a relegation battle.
Realistically, they will need assistance from elsewhere to achieve that goal as they are six points behind Sligo Rovers who are just above them on the table but crucially six points worse off than the Bit O’ Red.
City’s league form of late has been poor, winning only once in their last five games, but ironically, they did get a confidence boost from that solitary win as it was at home to Sligo Rovers in their last league outing.
They received another major boost also within the last week, beating Wexford in the quarter final of the FAI Cup and then getting a home draw against St Patricks Athletic in the semi-final.
Ruairi Keating was the hero in that 3-0 league win over Sligo Rovers, scoring a hat trick and taking City to 27 points on the league table.
They could not have a more difficult end to the season however, as they have to face every one of the current top six teams in the league, starting with fifth placed Shels on Friday night and following that with the long trip to the border on Monday night to tackle sixth placed Dundalk
Director of Football Liam Buckley spoke to the assembled press in Cork this week and said: “We have potentially nine games left, and each of them is a Cup Final for us. Our ambition is to get out of the bottom two, there are loads of points to be won between now and the end of the season starting this weekend.
“We need to put in a good shift and see where we go with it, Shels have been going well and they have an eye on European football so it will be a difficult game for us ‘’
He added: “Things are turning around for us I think; I have seen signs of improvement so hopefully we can push on right to the end of the season’’
“Would it not be great if we made the Cup Final, would it not be great if we got out of the bottom two and then we can plan for next season in a more comfortable situation. At the moment we are in the mix for many different scenarios so we are embracing the challenge and giving it our best.”
Referee: David Dunne
Shelbourne have picked up the maximum nine points from their three clashes with Cork City this season, winning all three games and restricting City to just on goal in those games.
They won 2-0 and 2-1 in the first two games and came away from Turners Cross at the end of July with another 2-0 win.
Hull City loanee Harry Wood scored the opening goal in that game in the 20th minute and Sean Boyd sealed the three points with a second goal on 73 minutes.
Shelbourne 8/15; Draw 27/10; Cork City 9/2
Shelbourne 1-0 Cork City
Injured: Sean Boyd, Matty Smyth, Kameron Ledwidge
Injured: Darragh Crowley, Tiernan O’ Brien, Kevin Custovic, Rokas Stanulevicius,
Doubtful: Barry Coffey.