Derby battle to kick off pivotal spell for under-pressure Hoops
In the course of the next 10 days, Shamrock Rovers fans are going to learn a lot about the squad of players which they are relying upon this season.
Their manager Pat Fenlon raised questions about their character last week after a 3-0 defeat in Derry that set the alarm bells ringing.
He is experienced enough to know that a repeat display in tonight's showdown with arch rivals Bohemians will lead to questions about his own performance.
Fenlon (right) was infuriated by his team's first-half efforts at the Brandywell and chose to go public with the extent of his frustration.
"We just didn't show enough guts," he said. "The one thing that should be a given in any team is that you show up, you fight and the best team wins after that."
It didn't happen and Rovers will have to perform in that department at Dalymount this evening or else they will suffer against a Bohemians side that appears to have overcome a rocky start to their campaign. Derby meetings demand a spirited approach and the Rovers camp will be keen to erase the memories of a late collapse in Phibsborough last term.
Rovers badly need to generate some momentum seeing as they host champions Dundalk next Friday and then must travel to Cork for a refixed game three days later.
The Hoops have recorded four wins from six matches so it's not about staying in touch with the leaders at this early stage; they should have time to make up ground in a congested table if they drop some points in a testing run. What they must do, however, is a produce displays which inspire confidence that they are generally headed in the right direction.
Fenlon recognised over the winter that he had to inject pace and dynamism into a side that drew too many games in 2015 if they were to get closer to Dundalk. What he didn't envisage was a soft centre posing problems and their battling qualities will be examined against a Bohs group that remain unbeaten on home turf this year.
The hosts can overtake Rovers if they notch up another win in this fixture, but manager Keith Long has dismissed that line of thought.
"Our record in previous games against Rovers doesn't come into it and the clubs' position in the table counts for nothing coming into a derby either," he said. "These games are tight, tense and have often been decided on a mistake or sometimes on who wants it more. I've no doubt it will be a keenly contested affair as always."
Elsewhere tonight, Sligo Rovers' search for a first victory brings them to Louth where Dundalk are actually overdue a victory even though they are setting the pace along with Derry.
Stephen Kenny's side defeated Finn Harps in their first home of the season but lost to Cork before drawing with Derry. By contrast, they have a 100pc record on their travels and 'keeper Gary Rogers is conscious of the statistic.
"We need to get back to winning ways at Oriel Park," says the former Sligo netminder. "We had a really good home record last year and we need to get back to that where teams come here and don't take anything away from us."