Tim banks on fringe men again
SSE Airtricity League First Division
There's a curtain-raiser of sorts to the Louth v Antrim All-Ireland Football Qualifier when Drogheda United play host to Athlone Town across the wall in United Park on Saturday (kick-off 5pm).
The League of Ireland programme was shifted to the weekend because of the Republic of Ireland's European Championship tie with Denmark on Friday, and the Boynesiders' game - originally fixed for 7pm - has been brought forward to avoid a direct clash with the match at the Gaelic Grounds and give supporters a chance to see both games if they wish.
Similar to the GAA showdown, a home win is the most likely scenario, but just as his counterpart Wayne Kierans won't be taking anything for granted, Drogheda United boss Tim Clancy is wary of under-estimating Athlone even though they're in the midst of an 11-match win-less streak.
The Boynesiders are seeking a rare fifth consecutive league win, having edged out Wexford last week, and depending on other results there's an outside chance they could even be top of the table come Saturday evening.
However, they look set to be decimated by injuries once again, having travelled to the South East with only 14 players, with key forwards Adam Wixted, Thomas Byrne, Mark Doyle and Stephen Meaney all likely to miss out once more and continuing concern over the fitness of Chris Lyons who had to be substituted again in Wexford.
Clancy, who watched that game from the stands - he serves the final match of his touchline ban this week - knows all too well how swiftly fortunes can suddenly turn against teams.
'It's going our way at the minute, but earlier in the season we lost to Longford and Cabinteely and drew in Limerick and things can change very quickly,' he pointed out.
'I would be very optimistic about having at least one player back, but I don't want [Athlone manager] Terry Butler knowing any names,' Clancy said.
'I thought their fella was maybe harshly sent off [when we played them] down there and we scored from the resulting free kick.
'I think in the end we ran out comfortable enough winners and missed plenty of chances even though it was 5-3. They are on a bad run, but they're still capable of winning games and only for a bad miss right at the end they would have got a draw away to Shelbourne a few weeks ago.
'We've a few tough games coming up and they start on Saturday, but if we perform well I'd be hopeful of getting a result.
'I think the atmosphere in the camp is better than last year. The lads are working for each other and there's a good feeling about the place again, which is good to see.'
Clancy admitted the game in Wexford was difficult to watch as Drogheda had to grind out a narrow 2-1 win against a Wexford side who nearly snatched an unlikely point in stoppage time.
'That's always a worry when you're only one goal up late in the game, because there's always going to be a little rally,' he said.
'In fairness to Wexford, they were competitive and I've been saying that for weeks, that there's no team that will just roll over and let you win.
'I know we drew one game 0-0 down there last season, but they're a lot more competitive this year and it showed on Friday night.
'Games like that can trip you up, so we were delighted to get the three points because we want to be involved in the play-offs at the end of the season.
'I thought everyone was excellent again. It's not easy when we're down quite a few numbers. Every player has got a game now this season apart from Sean Trimble, but that's where we're at.
'Mark Hughes has been an ever-present and excellent for us and him missing was difficult for us on Friday. Stephen Meaney was done very well for us when he has come in and when you take out his goal threat and Mark Doyle's, that's a big miss.
'But that's what we have a squad for, and James Clarke is a very intelligent player who has been excellent this year, Luke Heeney's been excellent and Jake Hyland stepped up with the winning goal which is very pleasing.'
Hughes, who missed that game because of a hamstring strain, looks to be the most likely of the injured players to make it back for the visit of Athlone - one of his former clubs. Paul Skinner is believed to be close to full fitness also, but it remains to be seen whether he will be restored between the sticks as his official understudy Luca Gratzer has done well in recent weeks.
Clancy, who confirmed that Janabi Amour has left the club because of the lack of first-team opportunities, agreed that the number of absentees was crippling and potentially damaging to Drogheda's promotion challenge, but he still isn't counting on being able to strengthen his squad in the near future.
'We've ground out results with players missing previously,' he pointed out.
'I was chatting away with the chairman [Conor Hoey] at half-time [in Wexford] because there was no one else to talk to. We're making changes behind the scenes to get the club in a better position going forward and we don't have a budget to bring players in - maybe in a few weeks.
'But we're not going to put the club in jeopardy by splurging out on signings.'