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Dublin: 4 °C Sunday 23 September, 2018
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Crunch time for Cork as defending champions bid to close gap on Dundalk

John Caulfield’s side face a stiff away assignment against in-form Bohemians this evening.

John Caulfield's side can't afford any more slip-ups.
John Caulfield's side can't afford any more slip-ups.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

WE’VE REACHED THE business end of proceedings now, and Cork City know they can’t afford to slip up between now and the end of the season if they are to harbour genuine hopes of snatching the Premier Division title from Dundalk’s grasp.

John Caulfield’s side have dropped points in their last two league outings but head into a crunch week with the chance to close the gap on Dundalk to just three points when they face Bohemians at Dalymount Park tonight [KO 7.35pm, RTÉ2].

Dundalk aren’t in action this weekend because of Derry City’s involvement in Sunday’s EA Sports Cup final, and by the time they take to the pitch next their nearest challengers may have moved to within striking distance at the summit.

Three points is a necessity for the Leesiders in Dublin tonight and victory over Bohs would increase the pressure on Dundalk, as well as raising the stakes ahead of next Friday’s much-anticipated showdown between the rivals at Turner’s Cross.

But Cork know they can’t look that far ahead given the size of the challenge which awaits them later, with Keith Long’s side in excellent form having recorded victories in their last three league outings.

An upturn in fortunes has lifted spirits around Dalymount Park and Bohs head into the final stretch of the season looking to climb the standings further, with St Pat’s and Derry in fifth and sixth well within reach.

Although the break for last week’s FAI Cup quarter-finals came at the wrong time for Bohs’ league momentum, Long’s charges maintained their winning run with a 1-0 victory over Scottish outfit Peterhead in the Irn Bru Cup mid-week. 

That run of form has seen Bohs win seven of their last eight games, keeping seven clean sheets — six in their last six — while scoring 24 goals in the process, with their sole defeat in that period coming against Dundalk.

With the RTÉ cameras in town and a big crowd expected, it promises to be a big occasion at Dalymount, and Bohs will look to build on their strong performances during the second half of the campaign.

Bohemians players congratulate goal scorer JJ Lunney after scoring a goal Bohs are in a rich vein of form. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“They are champions, we are the underdogs,” Long said ahead of the game. “Cork are a strong, well-organised, talented team with some outstanding players. We will have to play to our maximum to get a result but if we can manage to do that, we know that they are capable.

“We have been on a great run of form recently, losing only once way to Dundalk. This run has provided the players with great confidence and belief. Our performances have been really pleasing and we have played some good attacking football.

“But the most impressive aspect has been the players’ focus, determination and attitude towards every game. Being able to pick a settled team has also been very helpful and obviously results have meant changes have been kept to a minimum.”

Indeed, Long has no major injury concerns with Ryan Masterson (quad) and Danny Grant (bug) set to miss out through injury, while Darragh Leahy (groin) is a doubt and Ryan Swan (cruciate) remains a long-term absentee.

It will be the fourth meeting of the sides this season, with Cork boasting a 100% record to date — but Caulfield is due to be without both Johnny Dunleavy and Seán McLoughlin for their trip north. 

Alan Bennett came off during the 7-0 FAI Cup win over Longford last week with a strain and is being assessed ahead of the game, while Colm Horgan is still on the injured list.

“Keith and Trevor have done a great job at Bohs,” Caulfield said. “They have very good players and they are always very tough opponents. It is the time of the season where you have to be at your best, and we are preparing for the game to see if we can get the three points. 

“Bohs are on a great run and they are still in the cup as well, so they have everything to play for. From our point of view, we are trying to close the gap and we want to see if we can pick up the three points.

“Last Friday night was pleasing because we were excellent from the start, and we will have to do the same again tonight.”

SSE Airtricity League Premier Division fixtures:

Friday

  • Bohemians v Cork City, 7.35pm
  • Waterford v Bray Wanderers, 7.45pm
  • Shamrock Rovers v Limerick, 8pm

Saturday

  • Sligo Rovers v St Patrick’s Athletic, 7.45pm

SSE Airtricity League First Division fixtures:

Friday

  • Cabinteely v Shelbourne, 7.45pm
  • Drogheda United v Longford Town, 7.45pm
  • Galway United v Wexford FC, 7.45pm
  • UCD v Finn Harps, 7.45pm

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Ryan Bailey

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