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Pats will show no fear: Flood

ANTO FLOOD insists that the nerves will be left at the dressing room door tonight as his St Patrick's Athletic side aim to take another step closer to the league title.

Saints fans make the short trip across the city this evening to face UCD, knowing that a win for Liam Buckley's side will leave them six points clear at the top of the Premier Division table with only three games to go.

Then, depending on other results, Pats could effectively seal the title by beating third-placed Sligo Rovers at home on Sunday week, as their goal difference (+34) is far better than that of second-placed Dundalk (+19).

That's presuming St Pat's can win at UCD and that feat has been beyond them in the recent past far too often for their liking: in fact, Pats have lost at the UCD Bowl more often (three times) than they have won (twice) in the last four seasons, and they only came away with a scrappy 1-0 win from their last visit here in April.

But while their long-suffering fans – 14 years without a title – may travel with a great degree of nervousness, their players have a steely focus on finishing off the job.

"You can't be afraid of games like this or worried about them, these are the matches that you want to play in," said Flood, the third-top scorer in the Saints side this season with seven league goals.

"Of course, there is a touch of nerves about this game as there is so much at stake, but it's a case of good nerves as far as I am concerned and we won't go out there at UCD looking worried or concerned.

"We know the rewards that are there for us if we can finish off this job and I think our players will thrive on that, not worry about it.

"We are used to being questioned and being put under the spotlight," added Flood, a much-travelled striker who has played for seven League of Ireland clubs as well as having spells in Sweden and England.

"I see a real strength of character in this squad because every time that we have been criticised, every time questions have been asked of us, we have bounced back and answered those questions.

"People around the club were a bit down when we drew with Bohs a few weeks ago but we went out and took 10 points from the next four games after that."

But the 28-year-old is still wary of the threat from a UCD side who are still in danger of being dragged into the bottom two, Flood laughs at the mention of UCD as one of the few clubs in Ireland he hasn't played for.

"They are a good side and they are desperate to stay out of trouble so they'll give us a hard game," he said. "I have enjoyed the games against UCD in my time in the league, I have scored a couple of goals out there but I know how hard a game it can be.

"We beat UCD early on in the season but we only scraped a 1-0 win, Christopher Forrester scored, and that game could have gone either way as UCD were good on the night, so we will be wary.

"But we have a strong focus on what we need to do tonight. I really enjoyed our last game, we beat Bray 3-1 away, I scored a goal and had a good game, but the minute the whistle blew, my mind was on the next game and that was UCD away."

Flood had toured the league since he made his debut a decade ago but he feels that he is flourishing – finally – under Buckley this season.

"I don't think I got a fair crack of the whip in terms of games last season but I have had a good run this year, Liam is getting the best out of me," he said.

"The way we play, with one main striker up front, is hard work, you have to be selfless and work your socks off in every game, but Liam has shown faith in me this season. I have had a lot of starts in the league, and I'd like to think I am repaying the faith Liam showed in me."

As an ex-Saints player, UCD boss Martin Russell would be pleased to see his old club land the title this season but with just one point from their last four games, UCD are back in danger of relegation and they have injury worries since their last game, a 2-0 loss to Cork City.

"St Pat's have proven to be worthy champions in waiting, with their style of play. We have picked up a number of injuries from the game in Cork.

"However we will be out to do our best to prove our own players credentials and further their progression by staying in the top tier," said Russell.