Dundalk welcome champions elect Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park in a huge clash at both ends of the table as the Lilywhites look to continue their bid to pull away from the relegation playoff spot in the SSE Airtricity League.
This is the 365th meeting between the two sides and is the only Premier Division game being played on Friday night, the game is also live on RTE2.
A victory for Vinny Perth’s charges would lift the Louth side to sixth in the table with just six games remaining.
Dundalk are unbeaten in their last five games in all competitions. The Oriel outfit have picked up big wins and put up impressive performances against European hopefuls Sligo Rovers and Bohemians recently.
This is the fourth and final meeting between the two sides with Dundalk coming out on top the last time the champions travelled to Oriel Park.
Crucially, Dundalk have a host of absentees for the fixture with Raivis Jurkovskis and Sonni Nattestad on international duty while the departing Patrick McEleney is out injured alongside Brian Gartland, Daniel Kelly, David McMillan and Wilfried Zahibo.
Will Patching has impressed since returning from a loan spell with Derry City but he is doubtful having limped off in the 2-2 draw against Finn Harps last Friday.
Perth spoke highly of his opposing manager Stephen Bradley and called upon the Oriel Park crowd to play their part on a big night under the lights.
“Stephen Bradley and his staff deserve real credit for the way they have managed their group this year. They have spent heavily and brought in a lot of top players but they have also had to manage those players, which they’ve done really well.
“There is no doubt that the Rovers squad is far superior to ours at the moment but benches win games of football and when we have our best players available, we are as good as anybody in the league.
“The crowd have played a huge part in our last three games at Oriel Park and we’re going to need that again on Friday night. It’s been great for the players but I think the fans have really enjoyed being back at matches.
"The last 18 months have been very difficult for everyone in the country and what else would you rather be doing on a Friday night than supporting your local team?”
The defending champions are nine points clear with a game in hand over second-placed St Patrick’s Athletic and can take a huge step towards the title with a win away to Dundalk.
The Hoops have won nine of their last ten league games and have recovered well from their European demise and the loss of Liam Scales to Celtic.
Stephen Bradley’s charges will be without Roberto Lopes with the defender away on international duty with Cape Verde (who beat Liberia 2-1 in Thursday's World Cup qualifier), while there are no new injury concerns with Graham Burke still recovering from injury.
Bradley says his side are confident heading to play an in-form Dundalk side.
“We’re really confident. We’re playing well and winning games, so we’ll go there full of confidence. We know it’s a difficult game, it always is because they have some really good players. But it’s a game we’re ready for and looking forward to.
“I think when you play Dundalk, whether it’s home or away you’ve got to respect that they have some very, very good players.
“I’ve always said that’s one thing that hasn’t changed there. If you’re not quite on it, they obviously can hurt you, so we’ve got to make sure that we go there and impose ourselves on the game as soon as possible.”
Graham Burke will remain absent through injury but Bradley says he isn’t far from returning but the game at Oriel Park will come just too soon for the former Aston Villa striker.
“We just need to be careful with Graham. We could have rushed him back last week, so we just felt that it was important that we got it right and gave him a few more days.
“He’s coming on really well and he’s not too far away at all. We’ll have a look at him again this morning and see how he is tomorrow. It was more us, the staff, being cautious with him.”
Referee: Rob Harvey
Out of the previous 364 encounters between the sides, Dundalk have won 116 of them. Shamrock Rovers was the victor in 164 while there were 84 draws.
The two sides have met four times in 2021. Dundalk have won twice, once on penalties in the President’s Cup and the other in the league in May. The losing side in all the fixtures this year has always scored exactly one goal.
Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk first played in the League of Ireland top flight in the 1979/80 season. Shamrock Rovers drew 1-1 at home with Dundalk winning 1-0 in the other fixture. Dundalk finished second that season one point behind Limerick.
2-1 away win
Injuries: Patrick McEleney, David McMillan, Wilfried Zahibo, Daniel Kelly, Graham Gartland
International duty: Raivis Jurkovskis, Sonni Nattestad
Doubtful: Will Patching
Injuries: Graham Burke
International duty: Roberto Lopes