St Patrick’s Athletic host Dublin rivals Shamrock Rovers in Richmond Park on Monday evening in a battle of second versus fourth (kick-off 8.00). If this encounter needed any more talking points, the reigning champions loss to Sligo Rovers last Friday means only three points separate the sides – though Rovers do have a game in hand.
The last time these sides met Rovers ran out 1-0 winners to displace Pat’s at the top of the table. And tight games have very much been the order of the day between these two sides with 2-0 the biggest winning margin in this fixture so far this season – another Rovers victory back in March.
However since that 1-0 defeat, Pat’s have enjoyed a great run of form in the league and have only lost once since then. Indeed, the Inchicore club has scored 14 goals in its last four games. One player hoping to add to this tally will be striker Ian Daly who impressed when he came on for Danny North in the recent 3-0 win over Bray Wanderers.
Speaking midweek, Pat’s boss Pete Mahon suggested Daly may come into the starting line-up for the key clash with Rovers.
“We've no suspensions and we have a few decisions to make in terms of team selection”, he said. "Ian Daly definitely comes into contention after his performance on Friday but we're still considering what formation to play so we won't pick the team until tomorrow.
But Rovers have been in a good run of league form themselves. Before Friday’s defeat, they had won seven games on the bounce and with a game in hand over their fellow title challengers will remain of confident of being among the frontrunners until the very end.
Indeed, if Michael O’ Neill’s men needed an added incentive, they will know a positive result here and another one at home to Derry the following week will put them in a great position to retain their title with a seemingly easy final run in of fixtures. All that makes this game all the more important.
But this won’t be easy for the champions – especially with an ever increasing absentee list. A major defensive reshuffle is required with Pat Flynn and Pat Sullivan both receiving their marching orders for their dismissals against Sligo, while Ken Oman is still injured. Further up the pitch Conor McCormack continues to recover from a knee strain. To add to O’Neill’s worries, Ryan Thompson and Gary Twigg are both doubts with head and calf complaints respectively.
With the stakes massive for both clubs here, expect a tense and possible fiery encounter. On paper this one looks too tight to call, and with Rovers’ ever-increasing casualty list, it’s hard to see the Tallaght club escape with more than a point.