Second from bottom Sligo Rovers take on high-flying Shelbourne in a vital clash in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division tomorrow afternoon at the Showgrounds. (The game will be streamed live on WATCHLOI at 5PM).
The Bit O’Red know that this is a game they need to win in order to avoid sinking further into the relegation mire and give them a much needed injection of confidence to climb up the table.
Sligo had been scheduled to play Waterford last Tuesday at the Showgrounds but due to one of the Waterford players exhibiting COVID-19 type symptoms during a training session the match was subsequently postponed over understandable concerns.
The Bit O’Red did finally register their first win of the league season last Friday night when they made the difficult trip to the Brandywell to take on Derry City and came away with a 2-0 victory.
The match was evenly poised early on with both sides competitive from the start but it was Liam Buckley’s side who hit the front in the 19th minute when captain Kyle Callan-McFadden produced a towering header which flew past a helpless Peter Cherrie following a delicious delivery from Regan Donelan’s corner-kick.
Sligo led 1-0 at the break but doubled their advantage early in the second half when Ronan Coughlan was adjudged to have been upended in the penalty area and a spot-kick was awarded to the away side. Coughlan duly stepped up to dispatch the ball home from 12 yards to give the Bit O’Red an unassailable lead, and they closed out the game very comfortably to move above Cork City on goal difference.
The win for Sligo Rovers ended a dreadful start to the season which saw the Bit O’Red lose their first four league matches in succession to Finn Harps (1-0), St. Patrick’s Athletic (0-2), Bohemians (2-0) and Shamrock Rovers (2-3).
Sligo boss Liam Buckley was both pleased and relived to register their first win of the season telling sligorovers.com, “It was a great effort last weekend. We’re looking for that again on Saturday. That is what it takes to win games in this league. We know how hard it is to win a game and follow it up, results since the restart have shown that. If you’re not on it, you’ll get turned over. There were many good displays and that collective effort won us the game. We passed it well in periods in Derry and we’d certainly like to find more of that over a course of the game. We’re still around the bottom of the table, so while it was good to pick up the points, it isn’t going to count for a lot if we don’t follow it up in games to come.”
The Bit O’Red boss Buckley was disappointed with the postponement of the Waterford game but was quick to stress the importance of focusing on the next game.
“We were told on Monday morning that the game was off as we were about to conclude our preparations. It isn’t something to dwell on. When it happened we turned our attention to this game.”
Buckley is also expecting a difficult challenge from Shelbourne but is keen to focus on his own squad.
“Shelbourne had a good win on Tuesday, their start is a credit to them but my concern really is how we approach the game and what we do in it. We’ve seen some of what we can do, I’d like to get that better and get up the table. It’s going to be a tricky game and we’ll have to approach it right.”
Buckley has a number of selection headaches ahead of tomorrow afternoon’s game with both John Mahon and Lewis Banks both side-lined through injury.
The positive news was the return of Ronan Murray and Johnny Dunleavy to the bench last week and they are both available.
However, Garry Buckley and Teemu Penningkangas both face late fitness tests to be included in the match day squad.
New signing Lithuanian Sigitas Olberkis could join up too pending international clearance but Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe is still serving his quarantine until the end of the week.
Shels make another long and treacherous trip to the North West to go in search of back-to-back away wins in the space of 4 days to further bolster their aspirations of challenging for a Europa League place.
The Drumcondra side produced a hard fought display on Tuesday night against a dogged and determined Finn Harps to eke out a 1-0 win in Ballybofey.
Ian Morris’ side’s task became a mammoth one when they went down to ten men following the dismissal of Karl Sheppard after just eleven minutes following an ill-judged lunge on Kosovar Sadiki. However, Shels more than matched their hosts after that and took the lead just before the half hour courtesy of a fine headed goal from Ryan Brennan who got on the end of an Alex O’Hanlon delivery to the back post.
Shelbourne remained 1-0 up at the break but the one man disadvantage began to take its toll in the second half as Harps began to dominate and put a squeeze on their opponents but were unable to breach the Shels goal due to a combination of resolute defending and a slice of luck for the men from the capital.
This was an important victory for Shelbourne to end a run of two consecutive defeats having lost their previous two league matches 2-0 to Bohemians and 1-0 to Waterford.
Shels boss Ian Morris was pleased with the fighting display from his side and indicated there could be plenty of changes in the starting eleven saying to shelbournefc.ie, “We’ve done everything we can to prepare properly for Saturday to help the bodies recover properly. It was a big task going to ten men after ten minutes and there could be opportunities for those who didn’t start on Tuesday.”
Morris is anticipating a difficult encounter and emphasised the importance of diligent preparation ahead of the game .
“They’ve brought in players and will be a tough nut to crack so we will really need to be prepared and we’ve worked well on that.”
Morris will have almost a fully fit squad from which to choose from with Lorcan Fitzgerald the only injury concern having sustained a knock to the leg in the game against Waterford last Saturday.
Karl Sheppard will be unavailable due to a suspension.
Sligo Rovers and Shelbourne last met each other in the SSE Airtricity Premier Division back in the 2013 season with the Bit O’Red winning all three matches 2-0 at the Showgrounds, 0-2 at Tolka Park and 2-0 at home in the final game.
Rovers and Shels have played each other 11 times competitively since 2006 with Sligo having the superior head to head record with six wins to Shelbourne’s two and 3 draws.
Sligo Rovers scored 17 goals in the 11 matches averaging 1.5 per game while Shelbourne scored 10 goals averaging 0.9 per game.
Sligo Rovers 13/10 Draw 2/1 Shelbourne 21/10
Sligo Rovers 1-1 Shelbourne
Injured: Ronan Murray, Johnny Dunleavy.
Doubtful: Garry Buckley, Teemu Penningkangas.
Doubtful: Lorcan Fitzgerald.
Suspended: Karl Sheppard.