Saturday 10 December 2016

Lilies hungry for return to bread and butter

Published 20/09/2016 | 02:30

Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile

After another round of plaudits in response to their stirring Europa League draw in Alkmaar, Dundalk return to league business tonight.

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Stephen Kenny's charges face a pair of crucial home games this week before they can think about Maccabi Tel Aviv's visit to Ireland next Thursday.

They welcome Shamrock Rovers to Oriel Park this evening, with Derry due in town on Friday; both games are live on RTE.

Straight after the final whistle in Holland, Kenny referenced the games, stressing that retaining the title is necessary if Dundalk are to really progress from their European adventure.

If the Louth club can pick up more points in the Europa League, they would have a strong chance of being seeded at the first hurdle of the 2017 Champions League qualifiers.

Schedule

But with Cork on their trail - and still to visit Oriel Park in a game that is yet to be pencilled into the schedule - Kenny's charges face a serious fight to win a third title on the trot.

Dundalk will have five days to prepare for the Maccabi encounter after the Derry match - they had just three days before Alkmaar - but their manager will still have to look at how he can rotate his options.

Sub Ciaran Kilduff's header in the epic comeback with 10-men emphasised the value of squad strength.

Brian Gartland's return from a lay-off has strengthened the centre of defence, but Paddy Barrett performed really well in his absence and might well expect to feature in one of the league dates.

"It shows the value of the squad," says first-choice centre-half Andy Boyle. "We're going to have a lot of games and we're going to need all the bodies. I was delighted for Ciaran last week, given that he's had such a tough year with bad injuries."

In Kilduff's absence, David McMillan has also put in a lot of running as he carried the burden of striking responsibilities. Kenny will have to monitor the freshness levels as he makes his team selections.

They actually have an extra day's rest under their belt compared to their opponents this evening, with Rovers looking to bounce back from another defeat at the hands of Cork on Friday.

The 3-0 scoreline did flatter the Leesiders, with Stephen Bradley's youthful charges putting in a much better display compared to the humiliating 5-0 drubbing in the FAI Cup seven days previously.

Still, they are now under pressure to lift the performance levels and take control of their European destiny.

Rovers sit fourth in the table, three points off Derry City who have played a game more.

Third place would secure Europa League football for next term. If Rovers finish fourth, they would need one of the three teams above them to lift the FAI Cup.

Meanwhile, Dundalk's Champions League conquerors Legia Warsaw have sacked their manager Besnik Hasi despite the fact he was only appointed in the summer.

He did bring Legia to their promised land but their performances have been poor this season and they were thrashed 6-0 by Borussia Dortmund on their bow.

Tonight's preview

Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers

(Oriel Park, 7.05)

League form: Dundalk LWWWW, Shamrock Rovers WLDWL

Match odds: Dundalk 1/4, Shamrock Rovers 9/1, Draw 4/1

Referee: Robert Rogers (Dublin)

Team news: Trevor Clarke is suspended for Shamrock Rovers. In addition, Luke Byrne is also missing. Dundalk, meanwhile, are without the services of Darren Meenan who has a groin injury,while Ciaran O'Connor remains absent due to his rib injury.

Talking point: This time four years ago Shamrock Rovers were finishing up with Stephen Kenny and Dundalk were on the look-out for a new manager and a new identity. Who got lucky? Dundalk's presence at the top of the table, chasing a third successive league title, having qualified for the Europa League group stages, suggests they did reasonably well out of Kenny's dismissal from Tallaght.

Verdict: Home win

Irish Independent

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