JOHN Caulfield (below) has asked his Cork City players to show their character by recovering from recent traumas to keep their title dream alive.
Morale has taken a bit of a beating at Turner's Cross in the last fortnight as City - who expect to complete the sale of Brian Lenihan to Hull City later today - dropped vital league points at home to Bray Wanderers and also exited the FAI Cup at the hands of Bohemians after a replay.
A trip to bottom side Athlone Town tonight offers Cork a chance to at least keep pace with leaders Dundalk, as boss Caulfield hopes to see a reaction from his side following Monday's loss away to Bohs.
"It's a huge challenge for us, but the guys are focused and we know what we have to do. I am expecting us to face a tough encounter, but I think the lads are going to give a good performance and we are hoping we can get back on track," says Caulfield.
"We've been knocked before; we were knocked early in the season and we bounced back fantastically. We were knocked about a month ago and we bounced back with a superb win against St Pat's and a superb win against Derry. So far, in this series of games, we have taken seven points out of nine.
"We have worked very hard to get to second in the table, we are right in there and we know how big Friday's game is. It is the biggest game of the season for us. Every game is big, but we are now at a stage in the season where the run-in is on. We can't afford to not perform. We had a chat at training on Wednesday and everyone is focused and looking forward to Friday night," added Caulfield.
Athlone, without a win in six games, remain five points behind second-bottom Bray Wanderers but under Keith Long they have frustrated sides like Shamrock Rovers in recent weeks, an omen for Caulfield.
"Keith has done a great job at Athlone. When he took them over, they had no points and they are now within touching distance of the teams above them. They're battling and they have had three home wins in their last number of home games, while they have also drawn against Shamrock Rovers, so their home form has been excellent," added Caulfield.