1. All to play for in Europe
THE THREE AIRTRICITY LEAGUE sides in European action this week acquitted themselves very well, with all three leaving themselves a realistic chance of progressing.
Champions League football came to Tallaght on Tuesday night when Chris Turner’s 34th-minute strike was enough to give Shamrock Rovers a 1-0 lead over FC Flora Tallinn. Moments before Turner opened the scoring, Alan Mannus saved a penalty from Valeri Minkenen, denying the visitors a precious away goal.
Meanwhile, St. Pat’s will be pleased with their showing against Shakhter Karagandy in Kazakhstan. Dave McMillan looked to have earned the Saints a 1-1 draw when he scored in the 79th minute, but Nikola Vasiljevic’s second goal of the evening stole a slender advantage for Karagandy ahead of the second leg.
Bohemians though will have it all to do if they are to progress to the Europa League Third Qualifying Round. They lost 2-0 against Olimpija Ljubljana last night, with boss Pat Fenlon blasting the Portuguese referee after both of the hosts’ goals came from controversial set pieces.
2. A new man in Sligo
League leaders Sligo Rovers have a chance to consolidate their place at the top of the pile when they travel to Terryland Park to take on a struggling Galway United.
Former Bohs man Conor Powell will be in the Bit O’Red squad for the first time after he completed his move from Colchester United earlier this week.
Powell, 23, will slot into the league’s meanest defence. Sligo keeper Brendan Clarke has kept clean sheets in his last seven games, which is hardly a surprise considering that Paul Cook’s men have only conceded 10 in 22 games this season.
3. Can Rovers keep focus?
With one eye on next week’s return leg in Tallinn, Michael O’Neill will be working to have Shamrock Rovers at their best when they face Drogheda United in Hunky Dorys Park this evening.
Last week’s narrow defeat against Derry saw Rovers drop off the top of the pile and a win tonight is essential if the Tallaght side are to keep the pressure on Sligo.
This evening’s game could also Alan Mannus’ last in the league, with the Rovers keeper rumoured to be on his way to Scottish side St. Johnstone after next week’s Champions League game. Richard Brush, formerly of Sligo Rovers, is rumoured to have been lined up as Mannus’ replacement.
4. Tricky test for Derry
Derry City will have a chance to stretch their unbeaten league run to nine games this evening when they travel to the Carlisle Ground to take on Bray Wanderers.
The Seagulls come into the game on the back of an important win in Belfield last week, bringing an end to their recent mid-season slump.
For Derry, Eddie McCallion returns from suspension after missing the win against Rovers last week, while winger James McClean will surely be the centre of attention after whispers of a possible move to England began to get louder this week.
5. Shels hit the road
There’s a full programme of games in Division One this weekend, with league leaders Shelbourne heading on the long trip north to take on an improving Finn Harps side this evening.
With Cork City on their bye-week, Monaghan have a change to open up a three-point gap on the Leesiders when they welcome Mervue to Gortakeegan.
Waterford host Wexford Youths in tonight’s other game, while Longford make the trip west to play Salthill Devon and Athlone take on Limerick tomorrow evening.