Drogheda United’s faltering title defence receives its greatest test yet when Premier Division leaders St Patrick’s Athletic visit United Park on Friday evening, with Drogs knowing another defeat could deliver a mortal blow to their title chances.
Paul Doolin’s side lost for the fourth time in 10 league outings this season at Bray Wanderers seven days ago.
Their indifferent form sees them in sixth place, fully nine points adrift of this evening’s opponents, and a fifth defeat in 11 would surely spell the end of the Boynesiders’ hopes of retaining their crown.
Drogs at least had a defence in ill-luck last weekend, when they hit the woodwork on three separate occasions and were denied a second-minute penalty when the match officials ludicrously failed to spot Derek Foran’s goal-line handball.
They will see this evening’s clash as the chance to redress the balance and deliver a major statement of intent in regards to their championship challenge.
Doolin could be in a position to recall PFAI Player of the Year to the back four – the full back is rated 50/50 after a hamstring injury which has kept him on the sidelines for three weeks, but captain Declan O’Brien and Shane Barrett are both doubtful with knocks picked up against Bray.
St Pats manager Johnny McDonnell has been forced to test the depth of his squad in recent weeks with a host of players, including full internationals David Partridge, Joe O’Cearuill and Joseph Ndo, on the sidelines.
The list of absentees began to tell last weekend when UCD proved equal to the task of keeping the League leaders at bay, and McDonnell will again miss his international trio as well as defensive trio Jamie Harris, Damian Lynch and John Frost.
Drogs boss Doolin, for one, is confident that his side can inflict a second League defeat of the season on the Saints.
He said: “We’ve been playing really well in recent games, since Cork really, and we need to keep up that level of performance against St. Pat’s. 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.”