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Top dog in derbies can take league, says Russell

MIDFIELDER John Russell believes that St Patrick's Athletic can only become champions of Ireland if they can be the top dogs in Dublin.

The Saints will tonight play the second of three successive Dublin derbies when they take on manager-less Shelbourne at Tolka Park. The overall league table has a nice look to it from an Inchicore perspective as Liam Buckley's side are only three points behind leaders Sligo Rovers.

But if a Dublin-only table, made up of clubs from the capital, was drawn up the sheen is taken off as St Pat's have the same record from derby games as strugglers Bohemians, eight points and a goal difference of plus one from five games, hardly title-winning form.

"The Dublin derbies can cost you over a season, you could even win or lose a league over a whole season depending on the derbies," says Russell.

"Looking back at this season we drew at home to Bohs in a game we should have won, that was a case of two points dropped and it was the same earlier this week when we drew at home to Rovers, over those two games it was four points dropped and if we had those points on board now we'd be on top.

"We're in a good position now, we're three points off the top but we have a big two weeks in terms of the fixtures. We need to get a decent tally of points from the next two games if we are going to put pressure on Sligo. Six points from the next two derby games has to be the target, but as we all know, it's very hard to get wins in the local derbies," added Russell.

"Friday against Rovers was a disappointing result. I know we got a draw but after the game it felt like a loss. We played well in the first half and created lots of chances but the ball wouldn't go in for us.

"It was scrappy at the end, especially when Rovers went down to ten men but we couldn't get that goal."

As a former Sligo Rovers player, Galway lad Russell retains a keen interest in the affairs of his former club and he's well aware that the league champions have apparently run into a mid-season slump, with one win in the last five games.

"It's become very tight in the last couple of weeks, teams like UCD and Bray are picking up points and that's made other clubs a bit more nervous," says Russell.

"We've won six of the last nine games but we need to push on with more wins to try and get ahead of Sligo in the table.

"I actually think that the Sligo side I was in, under Paul Cook, played better football, it was a different style of football and they are a bit more direct now, but it's worked as they are league champions and league leaders, so they have to be respected.

"At Pat's now I think we are able to mix things up a bit more in terms of style, last season we played too much football, if you can say that, we can have a more direct side to our game now and hopefully we can be there in the shake-up when it comes to the league."

While Pat's were disappointed to 'only' draw at home to Rovers earlier this week, there are more grumbles around Tolka Park, as Alan Mathews' side followed up a hard-fought win over UCD by losing their next two games, against fellow-strugglers Bray Wanderers and also Dundalk.

Tonight's game has been given some added spice as Alan Mathews is no longer in charge of Shels, as he resigned last night so the club will have coach Kevin Doherty at the helm. Doherty's options are limited due to suspension (Robert Bayly and Brian Shortall out) and a number of injury worries, with Mark Leech and Dean Kelly doubts. Seán Brennan, Dean Kelly and Mark Leech.