ST. PATRICK'S ATHLETIC
Following their disappointing 1-0 loss away to Bray Wanderers on Saturday evening, St. Patrick's Athletic sit in fifth place in the Premier Division, 13 points off Friday's opponents, Dundalk, who they will be hoping to close the gap on at the top come Friday night.
Saturday's loss at the hands of Trevor Croly's side has put serious doubt into St. Pats' title ambitions for this season having won the league and cup in the previous two seasons, while a loss at home to Dundalk may all but kill Pats' status as title contenders.
Speaking ahead of the game, Saints boss Liam Buckley has come out in praise of Dundalk's form this season, but has maintained that his side will take each game as it comes.
“Dundalk have been excellent to date and have been very impressive in some matches,” he told st.patsfc.com. “We know it’ll be a tough game, but we’ll prepare for the match as we would any other game and take it on it’s merits. From our end of things, we’re trying to take it a game at a time.”
In a season of fits and starts for Buckley's men hope was once again discovered in the ruins of their first defeat in ten, when they put second-placed Cork City out of the EA Sports Cup at Turners Cross on Tuesday night in front of a crowd of 950 spectators.
The game went to a penalty shootout following a 1-1 result after Jack Bayly's goal on the hour mark was cancelled out four minutes later by Liam Kearney.
Five penalties scored and a Brendan Clarke save put the Saints into the semi-finals where they will face one of Shamrock Rovers, Galway United or Friday night's opponents Dundalk in the semi-finals.
Greg Bolger has returned to training following a knee injury and is in contention for Friday's game. The midfielder played for the Lilywhites for a brief period before joining St. Pats in 2012 and has reiterated the calls of his manager to take the game on its merits.
“We’ve played Dundalk twice and hopefully can learn from those games and apply that on Friday night. They’re a very good side so we know it’ll be tough,” he said.
"But looking at the way the lads played on Tuesday in Cork, we’re going into the game in good spirits and there’s a lot of people after putting their hands up to get picked so hopefully that can have us all ready to go come kick-off on Friday.”
Pats will once again face late fitness tests for striker Christy Fagan who has returned to training following a prolonged ankle injury, while captain Ger O'Brien remains out with an injured hamstring.
The last time these two sides met the pre-match predictions may have been a little harder to call. But following Dundalk's 3-0 home win at Oriel Park in late March, the gulf between them and Friday's opponents has only widened.
Since that win two months ago Dundalk have accumulated 26 from a possible 30 points available while Pats have registered 19 points in the same period.
With a 5-0 thumping of UCC in their quarter-final of the EA Sports Cup on Monday night, Dundalk will join St. Pats in next Wednesday's draw for the semi-finals.
The game signified Stephen Kenny's team's sixth win in their last six games in all competitions, with their last points dropped coming away to Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.
A win on Friday would put 16 points between Dundalk and St. Pats and could signify the end of yet another title challenger to The Town.
A late John Mountney's goal was required in Dundalk's last league game however, as they ran out winners in Derry following a tough and resolute performance from Peter Hutton's side.
Reflecting on the late win defender Andy Boyle said that the game although frustrating showed Dundalk's capacity to win games late on.
“It was a frustrating evening for us last week but we showed great character to get the win that we pushed for,” he told dundalkfc.com. “It’s a brilliant three points for us. We have shown that we can score late and it’s great to have that capacity.
“We have some great quality in the squad and strength in depth. We have a good home record and Derry City tried to make it difficult for us but we got there in the end and three points is all that matters.
On Friday night's game away to St. Pats, Boyle remarked the attractive football employed by both sets of teams and predicted a tough but enjoyable game at Richmond Park.
“Since I have come to the club, the matches against St. Pat’s have always been so tough, especially at Richmond Park. They have been really close games. They play good football like ourselves and they will give us a really good game.
“Hopefully it will be a good spectacle for fans like there has been through the past few seasons and hopefully we can come out the right side of it.”
Dundalk will remain without Brian Gartland for Friday's fixture as the centre back continues to recover from injury, however Sean Gannon will return from suspension with late fitness tests to determine the availability of midfielder Stephen O'Donnell who is suffering from an Achilles tendon injury.
Referee: Neil Doyle
St. Pats had not lost a game (prior to Saturday's game at Bray) since the reverse fixture of this tie at Oriel Park when Dundalk ran out 3-0 victors, an unbeaten run stretching to 13 games.
In the three games contested between the sides last season at Richmond Park, St. Pats earned two victories while Dundalk's only victory was an impressive 4-1 away win in April 2014.
St. Pats were the last team to beat Dundalk, with Dundalk having not lost a single competitive game since their 1-0 loss at Richmond Park last September.
Pats goalkeeper Conor O'Malley has kept five clean sheets in all competitions so far this season in his 10 games played.
In their previous six meetings Dundalk have won three scoring 10, while St. Patrick's Athletic have won two scoring five.
Dundalk have kept 12 clean sheets in their 17 games in all competitions this season, however they have not kept a clean sheet away to Pat’s in over 20 years – February 1994.
St. Patrick's Athletic 23/10; Draw 11/5; Dundalk 6/5.
St. Patrick's Athletic 1-2 Dundalk.
St. Patrick's Athletic
Injured: Ger O'Brien (hamstring).
Injured: Brian Gartland (hamstring).
Doubtful: Stephen O'Donnell (Achilles).