WHEN Dubliner David Elebert ended a 10-year spell away from home and came back to Ireland to sign for Shamrock Rovers at the start of this season, he had no real idea what to expect.
A title push was hoped for but he certainly didn't predict that the Hoops would be in the bottom half of the table and 13 points off the pace before the first series of games were completed.
But that's been the story of 2013 for the Hoops, who come into tonight's game at home to league leaders and reigning champions Sligo Rovers having managed just one win in the last eight league games.
This weekend – Rovers are at home to Sligo tonight and Dundalk on Monday – could be a season-defining few days for Trevor Croly, as a pair of wins would at least put Rovers back into contention. Two defeats, however, would see their season end early.
Elebert, who won a Scottish First Division medal alongside a teenage James McCarthy with Hamilton Athletic and also had spells in England and Iceland, remains convinced that Rovers can still finish the season with something to show for it despite the poor start.
"There's no way we can say that the season is over for us, we have every intention of getting back into things and I know we have the players and the squad to do that," Elebert told The Herald.
"Of course we can still get something from the season. We haven't even finished the first series of games yet, everyone still has to play everyone else again.
"Having said that, we can't afford to lose this game tonight, we can't go that far behind Sligo at this stage of the season as that gap would be hard to reduce.
"A lot could hinge on the outcome of this game tonight. If we can beat Sligo it would be a massive confidence boost for us for the next couple of league games and we also have the Setanta Cup final to look forward to. That's not being talked about that much but I think we deserve credit for getting to the final.
"If we were to beat Sligo I think it would be a massive psychological boost for us and a blow for them, to see how they'd respond, so beating Sligo would really kick-start our season."
Elebert says he's mystified by the team's poor start to the season.
"Everything is in place here, we have a very good manager and squad, all the facilities you need, the stadium is top class and training is great – everything is very professional," he says.
"We're not too far away and we have only lost twice this season, but we have had way too many draws. If we could have turned some of those draws into wins we'd be right up there in the table.
"I think it's a factor as well that when you play for a club like Shamrock Rovers there is massive pressure every week. You are expected to win every game you play and that does become a burden when you are trying to win games."
Injury has also hampered Rovers this season, as key players like Ken Oman, Jason McGuinness and Mark Quigley have been missing for spells, while even Elebert's time at the club has been disrupted. Signing for Rovers after a spell in Iceland with Fylkir, he had to overcome an injury and then illness before finally making his full league debut, in the 2-1 defeat away to Derry last month.
Yet the former Preston man is delighted with his move.
"It's strange to be back home in Dublin, 10 years after I went to England," he says.
"I only signed for one year to see how it goes, hopefully we can have a strong finish to the season."
Tonight is a chance for Elebert to make his home league debut for the Hoops, as his previous outings have been away (to Bohemians, Derry City and UCD), so it's a fresh start in a way for the Dubliner.
Tonight also sets up a reunion with one of his old pals, as Sligo defender Gavin Peers was a team-mate in a handy- looking Stella Maris schoolboy side a decade ago.
"I enjoyed playing with Gavin back in the schoolboys days, we were in a good side and myself and Gavin went off on a few trials together.
"It will be nice to play against him and see how we measure up against each other," added Elebert.
For Sligo, tonight is also a chance to emerge from a sticky spell as Ian Baraclough's side have taken just one point from the last two games.
"A match with opposition like us is something they are probably looking for," says Baraclough.
"When you're trying to recover from a couple of bad results the visit of the league leaders can be seen as a good way to try to recover from it.
"They are a team that must be respected, a squad filled with talented players and it is a tough journey to the capital for us."