Having lost to the champions Dundalk on the opening night and gaining a win in the Dublin derby against Bohs last week, the big games for Shamrock Rovers continue when they welcome Derry City to Tallaght Stadium on Friday night (kick off 8pm).
The Hoops would have hoped to come out of the opening two games with at least four points. Rovers, whilst they did hit the bar in the last minute in Oriel Park, would have been deemed lucky to get a point against Dundalk. The bigger challenge for a win last week was the weather but after two pitch inspections the match in Tallaght went ahead with Rovers beating Bohs 2-1.
If Rovers are to challenge for the title this season they must look to take all three points against Derry – the team who finished directly above them in the 2016 Premier Division table. Three points was all they managed to achieve from the league matches against the three teams above them in the table last year. Those meagre three points came from a 2-2 draw away to the Candystripes, along with draws at home to both Dundalk and Cork City.
The Hoops will be encouraged going into Friday’s game by their performance in last week’s derby victory and the size of the crowd who watched on. Rovers had their biggest crowd for a league game in Tallaght since March 2011 – at the start of the season when they last won the league.
Speaking about the win against the Gypsies, Hoops head coach Stephen Bradley said “I’m delighted to get the win but we should have been out of sight before they came back and made it a nervy ending. That bit was disappointing but overall there were a lot of positives considering the pitch and the game it was.
“I think the crowd was unbelievable. I honestly haven't seen Tallaght like that since the days of Michael (O'Neill) when we won the league here. For our players to see that and experience that, which a lot of them wouldn't have played in front of a crowd like that, to go and win a big game like that in front of the crowd will only help us going forward.
“It shows that the fans, first of all are buying into what we have in the dressing room and they want to be part of what we're doing and it's up to us as a group now to keep it going and keep them with us.”
The Hoops are injury free and despite Dan Devine struggling towards the end of the game last week due to a knock to his quad, he is expected to be available. Graham Burke was handed a three game suspension following his red card in Dundalk so he will miss the game against Derry and the Rovers trip to Galway on Monday.
“We need to go and win the game,” said Bradley about the clash with the Candystripes. “It's no use to us beating Bohs and then not showing up against Derry. We need to go and put in a performance and go and win the game, because if we do, the fans will come back. If we make this place a fortress people won't want to come here and play, it's a hard place to come and play when you have a crowd like that and we play with energy.”
Friday’s game will certainly shine a light on the Candystripes potential for the season when they come up against a Hoops side who themselves are looking to challenge for the title. This is especially the case after last week’s embarrassing early end to proceedings against Limerick due to floodlight failure in Maginn Park.
Kenny Shiels’ men have lost just one game in their last 17. They claimed two victories over the Hoops last year as they deservedly finished third to claim one of those coveted European spots. The third game between the sides in the Brandywell finished in a draw last September.
Preparation for City this week wasn’t helped by the news that Conor McDermott will be out for the next month due to an injury picked up in a reserve fixture last weekend. That may mean the Candystripes may line up with three at the back as they did on occasion in pre-season. If not, Scott Whiteside may come in to play at right back in a more traditional back four formation.
Due to injury both Rory Patterson and Ben Doherty are missing but Nathan Boyle proved very effective on the opening night when he scored twice when City beat Bohs 4-1 at Dalymount Park. Ronan Curtis scored against Limerick before the lights went out and rubbed out that goal from the record books.
“Shamrock Rovers are a very good team,” said Shiels when speaking to the Derry Journal. “They have had huge investments and challengers for the title and that will bring a little bit of pressure to them.
“We are the most technical team in the league, no one can argue with that. We aren’t the best team in the league, but we are the most technical, so if we get good pitches we’ll do well, we’ll play well, we’ll entertain and most times we get a result.”
If the Candystripes can come away with something on Friday, it will give them confidence for when they welcome Dundalk to Buncrana on Monday evening.
Referee: Graham Kelly.
City have three wins and one draw from the last four encounters with the Hoops.
Last week, on a night when Rovers got their 100th league win over Bohs, Simon Madden made his 100th consecutive league appearance for the Hoops.
The 2016 PFAI team of the year was made up completely of outfield players from Dundalk and Cork City. Derry City goalkeeper Ger Doherty made up the XI.
Shamrock Rovers 11/10; Draw 23/10; Derry City 5/2.
2-1 home win
Suspended: Graham Burke.
Injured: Conor McDermott, Rory Patterson, Ben Doherty.
Macdara Ferris is a contributor since 2007 to Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers' match day programme) and the co-author of Tallaght Time: Shamrock Rovers 2009 to 2012. He still believes that one day he will see Rovers win the FAI Cup. The first international game he attended was Luxembourg being dispatched 2-1 at Lansdowne Road by Jack Charlton's Ireland team.
He has been a writer with extratime.ie since 2012 covering the League of Ireland, the Irish National team and a few Champions League finals. He has also been known to pop up in far flung places like Ballybofey, Belfast, Berlin and Brazil to report for extratime.
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