THERE are many in Eircom League circles who claim that you can only talk seriously about the league table when one round of fixtures has elapsed so, in that case, Drogheda United could really do with beating St Patrick's Athletic this evening.
The United Park meeting between last year's champions and the favourites to take the title off them may be a pivotal moment in the race to the crown.
If the Saints win, they will extend their lead at the top of the table to seven points and their advantage over sixth-placed Drogheda to 12.
A win for the Louth side would bring John McDonnell's side onto their radar, and also give a boost to second-placed Bohemians and the rest of the chasing pack, with the Gypsies meeting one of those when they face Cork on Sunday.
The stakes are high, and St Pat's striker Mark Quigley is confident that his colleagues are good enough to make the short journey north and come home with the spoils. "I think we have the team to go up there and beat them," says Quigley, who is thought to have impressed Giovanni Trapattoni in action for the Irish U-23s against their Northern counterparts in Lurgan on Tuesday night.
"They're still the champions and they're a quality side so we'll go there, try and keep our work rate up and hopefully that will get us the three points.
"It's only early in the league but I think 12 points, if we go that far ahead of Drogheda, is a lot."
By their own admission, the Inchicore club have not been at concert pitch in recent weeks and many would count their scoreless draw at home with UCD last Friday as two points dropped.
Quigley's team-mate Stephen Paisley, who has thrived in defence in this campaign, agrees that they are capable of better despite their strong position.
"I still think there's more to come from the team," he says.
"We haven't been performing to our capabilities in certain games and I do think we can push on and do even better.
"If you have any aspirations of challenging for a league title you have to be winning games even when you're not playing well. We've been grinding out results but we need to keep improving.
"We've learnt quite a bit from last year, in that we started off in the same sort of way but now have a different formula. We are aware that we can't afford to have a dip in form and some of the players are a bit more experienced now and know what's needed."
After last week, Drogheda will feel they deserve a bit of luck after they lost 1-0 to Bray in a game where opposition defender Derek Foran blatantly handballed on the line in the second minute. [the guilty referee, Paul Tuite, is off the list this weekend]. Still, Paul Doolin is happy with the amount of chances that his side created thereafter, and is looking forward to this game while respecting the opponents.
"There's no denying they've had a great start. They've set the lead for other teams to follow again this year.
"We were very unlucky against Bray not to have won, even without the disallowed goal. I think if we can play to that same standard again, we have a great chance. We just need to start putting away those chances," he added.
In some respects, it's been the story of their season thus far. You sense Doolin is aware that problem must be solved sooner rather than later.