Friday 23 March 2018

Saints can capitalise on Rovers' jitters to reach promised land -- Pender

Neil Ahern

IT'S about that time of year again, when the words St Patrick's Athletic and the year 1961 ring through domestic soccer like a cathedral bell.

And, if the pressure piled on the Saints each time they battle through another round of the FAI Ford Cup wasn't strong enough already, manager Pete Mahon hasn't exactly done his part to quell the hype.

Instead, the former UCD boss fanned the flames by stating from the outset that a first FAI Cup in 49 years is his primary target this season. No pressure then?

"Pete's put a lot of pressure on us alright!" said St Patrick's Athletic defender Derek Pender, tongue nowhere near cheek.

"Ah no, he doesn't put that much pressure on us. It's just that we've to believe in ourselves that we are good enough to win the Cup. Hopefully, we can go and do it.

He added: "He did say it was the Holy Grail at the start of the season. He drummed that into us. From the start of the season, our goal was to win a cup."

And with Shamrock Rovers suffering jitters of their own of late -- with four defeats in five games and a dramatic fall from grace after they were seemingly strolling to a first league title since 1994 -- does Pender believe they are lambs to the slaughter tomorrow?

"I think we fancy our chances, but it could go against us as well, as they look to get back to winning ways. We are feeling quietly confident ourselves going up there," he said.

"It does take the spotlight off us a bit. Normally, it's St Pat's needing to win the Cup, given how long it's been. But with Rovers not been doing well, having got some bad results over the last couple of weeks, all the pressure and focus is on them at the minute."

Michael O'Neill, however, dismissed any suggestions that his side's league form will affect their performance tomorrow.

"Nobody is hiding behind the fact that we've had a bad week, that's what we've had. But cup games take care of themselves, there's no bearing in relation to league form," he said.

"We could be sitting 20 points clear and St Pat's could be bottom of the league and it wouldn't matter.

"The reality is both teams have a massive prize at the end of this game and that's the only focus at the moment."

Shamrock Rovers v St Pat's,

Live, tomorrow, RTE 2, 3.15

Irish Independent

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