Mahon rallies Pat's for do-or-die clash
WITH just eight rounds of fixtures left in the Airtricity League, St Patrick's Athletic will discover tonight if they can still rate themselves as real title contenders.
Saints boss Pete Mahon has labelled his side's showdown with leaders Shamrock Rovers at Richmond Park as a 'win-or-bust' match.
Michael O'Neill's Hoops lead their neighbours by seven points. Defending champions Bohemians are third, level on points with St Pat's but with an inferior goal difference.
While Bohs still have a game to come against Rovers, this is the last direct opportunity St Pat's have to cut the deficit and Mahon conceded: "This is a must-win game for us.
"We've had two must-win games since I came here.
"The final game against Rovers last season -- even though things were up in air over Derry City's situation -- was important because, if we lost, we could have been relegated. We had to beat Rovers that day.
"Here we are nearly 12 months later and it's still a case of three points being on offer but for vastly different reasons. We can't afford to go 10 points behind. If we do, then realistically I couldn't see us catching them."
Not that Mahon will be throwing in the towel if things go wrong tonight. "I want to stay second in the league at least as we have been in the top two all year," he insisted.
"This is a defining game for us. I honestly didn't think we would be here but the players have done really well. It would be interesting to see how Rovers react if the gap is four points rather than 10.
"If Rovers want to make progress, and you can spin it all you want, they have to win the league. They were second last year.
"Anyone would give their right arm to be seven points clear with eight games to go.
"Most people would say the title is theirs to throw away now."
Rovers have won two of the previous three games between the teams this season, with the Saints emerging victorious when they first met back in March.
While the Hoops came into the campaign as title contenders following their runners-up placing last term, few would have put St Pat's in the same bracket before the season started.
Mahon has achieved a remarkable turnaround at the Inchicore club since his initial appointment in a temporary capacity last year, when the Saints were in serious danger of being relegated.
And he is proud of what he has achieved with limited resources.
"At the start of the year, I said I wanted an improvement on last year and I suppose people said that wouldn't be hard after the year the club had just had," he said.
"My goal was to improve our position in the league and to win the FAI Cup, which is the trophy that everyone around here wants.
"We're into the quarter-finals of the cup and we're still looking to win the league. If we fail to win either, we want to at least qualify for Europe."
St Pat's have questioned the decision to rearrange three of their forthcoming fixtures to 1.0 on Saturday to facilitate live TV coverage.
Their two matches against Sporting Fingal -- one in the league and the other in the FAI Cup -- will now be played on September 18 and October 2, while their league date with Bohemians has been moved to October 9.
All of the games scheduled for that weekend have been put back 24 hours to avoid a clash with Ireland's Euro 2012 qualifier against Russia.
"The first we knew about this was on Wednesday afternoon when we received an email," said St Pat's commercial manager Phil Nolan.
"When we looked at the figures for the last Sporting Fingal match we played on a Sunday afternoon, they showed a loss of €10,000 in overall revenue, including revenue from our shops at the ground.
"A match against Bohemians gives us one of our biggest gates. Will the supporters now come to the match or stay at home and look at it on TV?
"We have all got to sit down and advance together. If TV stations want to cover us, they do so at 7.0 on a Friday or a Saturday night, not 1.0."