# now or never
Visit of Cork City a 'must-win game' in Dundalk's 4-in-a-row bid
Robbie Benson: “The shoe is on the other foot now… but we can’t get too bogged down in looking at the table.”

ROBBIE BENSON WANTS Dundalk’s supporters to know that they can play an important role in keeping alive their hopes of winning a fourth consecutive SSE Airtricity League Premier Division title.

However, the Lilywhites midfielder admits that there’s an onus on the players to give the fans something to shout about after what has largely been a frustrating season so far.

Robbie Benson before the game Dundalk midfielder Robbie Benson.

Dundalk welcome the league leaders to Oriel Park tomorrow night, hoping to reduce the substantial 15-point gap that Cork City have opened up at the top of the table. Having lost five of their 16 Premier Division games so far this season, Dundalk’s status as champions is hanging by a thread.

Their manager Stephen Kenny bemoaned a “flat, quiet” atmosphere at Oriel Park following last week’s goalless draw with Derry City. Benson believes the club’s supporters can help them in their bid to end Cork City’s undefeated run of 19 games in all competitions in 2017.

“The supporters are really important,” he said. “I remember I was in the stand when we played Cork at Oriel towards the end of last season, the league was kind of decided that night, and they were brilliant.

“I’m sure they’ll all be out on Friday night as well. But it’s a two-way street too. We have to put on a show for the fans and make them come back every week. At the same time they have to give us a lift when we need it.

“They’ve been brilliant over the last few years. Living in the town, there’s a great sense of community built around the football club, with people stopping you around the place and passing on encouragement. It’s nice to do it for them as well. Hopefully we can drive each other on.”

With a number of injury absentees and several new players attempting to settle into the squad, Dundalk struggled during the first round of games as Stephen Kenny sought to bring stability to his side.

Benson only recently recovered from a hamstring injury he sustained in the 2-1 defeat to Cork City in April, and the signs are beginning to look more positive for the Louth outfit.

A view of Oriel Park, Dundalk James Crombie / INPHO Over 4,000 spectators watched Dundalk defeat Cork City 2-1 at Oriel Park last October. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Their current run of four games undefeated in the league, during which they haven’t conceded a goal, is their best so far this season. Benson admits that it’s been frustrating to have fallen so far behind, but with the mid-season break following tomorrow night’s game, it’s an opportunity to continue their momentum at an important juncture.

“We’ve been very unsettled with injuries, not to mention all the new lads coming in for the start of the season. I think Micky Duffy is the only player who has started every game,” said Benson, who joined Dundalk last season from UCD.

“No matter what level you’re playing at, if you’re having to chop and change every week it’s going to have an effect. From our own point of view the changes were enforced and it hasn’t helped.

“But I think we’re getting everyone back to full fitness now and the break will help with that as well. Hopefully we’ll have a full squad to pick from when we come from the break to play Drogheda.”

The 25-year-old Athlone native adds: “We only have ourselves to blame for dropping points in games that we probably shouldn’t have. In any other season we wouldn’t have fallen so far behind but fair play to Cork for the run they’ve gone on.

“The only thing we can do is concentrate on keeping this run going. We’re four games unbeaten and with four clean sheets to boot. Our only concern is to maintain that kind of form into the break and when we come back from it.

“Last year I think we won five on the bounce after the break before going into Europe and that really set us up well. We’ll be looking to repeat that this year, although we’re not looking past Friday night at the minute.”

Robbie Benson and Lukas Schubert Bryan Keane / INPHO Robbie Benson tussles with Lukas Schubert during Dundalk's draw with Derry City last week. Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Benson is hoping to wake up on Saturday morning to a 12-point gap between Dundalk and Cork City, but if the result goes the way of the Leesiders they’ll be 18 points clear.

With 16 games remaining in the campaign thereafter, he knows the outcome of tomorrow night’s top-of-the-table clash will be crucial to their hopes of catching John Caulfield’s side.

“There’s no doubt that it’s a must-win game,” Benson said. “I think we need to be winning every game at this stage. In the last few years Cork have been playing from behind and catching up to us. They pushed us all the way last year, I wasn’t here before that, but the shoe is on the other foot now.

“We’re in that position now but we can’t get too bogged down in looking at the table. If Cork do slip up, we just have to make sure we’re ready to capitalise.”

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