A few days on from a superb 1-1 draw away to champions Shamrock Rovers, the challenge could hardly be more different as Drogheda United prepare to host First Division strugglers Athlone Town in the first round of the extra.ie FAI Cup this Friday (kick-off 7.45pm).
The Boynesiders have lost only twice in their last nine top-flight games and on paper they should progress comfortably to the last 16 against the league’s bottom team, but manager Kevin Doherty has seen enough of the midlanders to know that they could be tricky opponents.
Athlone recently ended a run of four straight defeats with a 3-1 away victory over neighbours Longford Town and they also held Drogheda to a 2-2 draw in a pre-season friendly.
“We want to win the league as well!” Doherty quipped when asked if the FAI Cup was a competition where Drogheda could go all the way.
“A lot depends on draws and form and injuries and suspensions and we won’t be looking past Athlone.
“When you look at their recent history they got to the semi-finals in the FAI Cup, and actually their recent form has been good.
“I watched their game against Longford and they deserved their win that night, and then last week it was 1-1 going into the 90th minute against Galway and then they had a sending-off which affected the game (Galway eventually won it 3-1).
“People will be looking at it and saying they’re bottom of the First Division, but they have some really exciting young players and it’s definitely not a foregone conclusion.
“We’ve got plenty of information on them and we’ll prepare for Athlone as if we were preparing for Shamrock Rovers. It’s not like we’re playing a team from a million miles back, so we’ll be going with our strongest available 11.”
In that regard club captain Dane Massey has returned to training and could come into contention for a place in the squad, but Luke Heeney has been ruled out for several weeks with a hamstring injury.
Recent signings Darragh Noone and Lee Steacy will be hoping for some game time and Doherty is still hoping to secure one more new signing before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
The visit of Athlone is the first of two consecutive home games for Drogheda, with UCD visiting Head in the Game Park on bank holiday Monday (kick-off 5pm) in a rearranged league fixture.
As for last Saturday’s draw in Tallaght, Doherty couldn’t have been more pleased that his squad’s efforts were rewarded with a late equaliser.
“Rovers could have won it at the end, but Collie McCabe wasn’t really peppered and we got into some really, really good positions and that final pass was just over-hit,” he said.
“But, especially with it being Rovers away, it’s an excellent point for us.
“We were absolutely excellent and over the last three games we’ve been really really good even though we got beaten by Bohs the week before.”