Week 23 of the Airtricity League promises to be a cracker with all 6 games in the Premier Division down for tonight and each one of them affecting the championship or relegation battles. Here's what we're looking forward to most
1) As second plays third, will either land a killer blow?
Dundalk in 2nd host Sligo Rovers in 3rd as they both look to earn 3 valuable points in the championship race. There's no team hotter than Dundalk who have won 8 of their last 10 games including wins over the other top 4 teams. The combination of Hoban and Byrne has been a revelation and yet still the bookmakers don't rate Dundalk. They're still 4th favourites to land the title. Meanwhile Champions Sligo Rovers look for their 3rd consecutive win for the first time since the opening 8 game streak. They've already won in Oriel Park this season and they know they have to squad to win any game. With only 5 points separating the top 4, both sides will know anything less is unacceptable.
2) Could this be the last Bohs/Rovers derby for a while?
There's no escaping the fact that Bohs money worries won't be helped by a spell in the First Division (Contrary to what Damian Richardson said on MNS this week, no club gets "revitalized" in the First Division...). As the bottom side, they're going to have to fight for every point they get and tonight they host their cross-city rivals Shamrock Rovers who have been going through their own mini-crisis. No win in 4 for Rovers and bad defeats with 2 men sent off in the last 2 games saw Trevor Croly defending himself in the media this week. His continued references to their success in the Setanta and League Cup probably won't wash with Rovers fans if they can't beat this Bohs side tonight. Something they haven't managed to do yet this season.
3) Can Pats continue their record in Dublin derbies against Shels?
Since losing to Shamrock Rovers in the 2nd game of the season, Pats have played 7 Dublin derbies, winning 6 and drawing 1. They didn't concede once in those 7 games. As well as last week's 4-0 win in Tallaght against Shamrock Rovers, they include 4-0 and 3-0 wins over Shelbourne. Today they host a very different Shelbourne side as John McDonnell continues to turn their season around. While Shels went 5 games unbeaten recently, that was book-ended by two defeats at home to Sligo and Dundalk so they're still vulnerable against the top 4. Anything less than a win tonight for Pats will be seen as a disappointment as they strive towards their 1st title in over a decade.
4) Will Derry City beat Drogheda to stay in touch?
3 defeats in 5 games have seen Derry City slip into 4th position, yet they remain only 5 points off the lead. Tonight they host a Drogheda United side who beat Derry in the Brandywell in a recent EA Sports Cup semi final (and everyone knows how serious Derry take the league cup...). Talisman Rory Patterson scored twice for Derry against UCD and banished any doubts that some hard that he was slumping. Drogheda have steadied their own ship since flirting with relegation and are now unbeaten in 5 (albeit with 4 draws!). Another draw tonight will likely see Derry lose further ground.
5) Can Bray Wanderers or UCD sneak any points?
While Bohs and Shels are in Dublin Derby action tonight, Bray and UCD play the mid-table pair of Cork and Limerick respectively. With Bray at home they're more likely to pick up a point (or 3) but they haven't won in over 2 months since their remarkable 5-4 win over UCD. UCD travel to Thomond Park and will again hope they can manage to sneak something. They're likely to score (they have in the last 8) but can they keep a clean sheet (they only have 2 all season)?
The Under 19 league beings tomorrow and if you can check out the great fan run LOI u19 site for more info.
Whatever happens, enjoy the games!