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Hughes making most of late shot at big time

Having both scored three from three so far this season, tonight's Dublin derby between Shamrock Rovers and Shelbourne sees the league's hottest strikers go head-to-head.

The two players, Gary Twigg and Philly Hughes, could not have found their way to this point in their careers more differently. Whereas Twigg started life in the English Premier League, Hughes has spent most of his career in the Irish First Division.

Shels boss Alan Mathews is the first of the striker's many managers to instil full trust in Hughes in the Premier Division.

The Dubliner has played for nine different league clubs and been promoted before, but until now the 31-year-old has not had a sustained run in the top flight in a team like the current Shels outfit. "I never had any doubts about Philly," Mathews said. "He was a great signing for us last season and scored something like 27 goals.

"He was brilliant for us last year and this is a real challenge for him. I didn't even know if he had been with Premier Division clubs, but he seems to have played most of his games in the First Division.

"When Dundalk were promoted they did not bring him on board, but I don't know who else got promoted with him, maybe Dublin City. I didn't even look at that.

"Philly was excellent for us last year and he'll score goals, as he did last Friday night against Derry.

"He takes shots, as strikers do, and he tries things around the box. But his work rate and commitment are great and he's a key influence in the group. He's a great professional and if he if continues this way we'll have no complaints about him."

Rovers are without left-back Conor Powell for tonight's clash and in the absence of another recognised option, Stephen Kenny may have to deploy Killian Brennan or Conor McCormack against a Shels attack that is bubbling with confidence and packing plenty of pace.

Former Hoop Paddy Kavanagh in particular will head to Tallaght with something to prove, while Brendan McGill, Conan Byrne and another ex-Rovers man David Cassidy can all hurt teams.

"We tried to bring in players who can give us different qualities that we didn't have last year, and Paddy Kavanagh has been very good for us," Mathews acknowledged. "You have Conan, who has great pace, and Brendan McGill who is very quick if you give him the ball.

"If you have those guys in the team in addition to Philly Hughes and David Cassidy, you have people who can get you goals.

"To date it has gone okay; we know we have a long way to go and we have a lot of people to get back into the team to make sure we give ourselves every chance. We have good players, we brought good players into the club and I just hope it continues."

Of course, at the back they will have to keep an eye on Twigg, who broke another promoted side's heart last weekend when he struck in injury-time to level in Cork.

But unless the Hoops improve against an impressive Shels outfit, there could be a shock, and few would bet against Hughes to deliver the blow.

Irish Independent