Europa Conference League: Derry City and Sligo Rovers look to make strong opening statements

Previews: UCD take on Bohemians in Thursday night’s Premier Division action

Derry City v Riga FC (Latvia), Brandywell, 7.45pm – Live LOITV

“With Derry City we already know what to expect and what football they play because we played Dundalk recently,” said Riga FC assistant coach Kristaps Blanks. “Same stadiums, same fans, same religion, same everything.”

The Brandywell might have something to say about that. Making a dent in Europe must be high on the list of priorities for Derry City owner Philip O’Doherty, but for manager Ruaidhrí Higgins finishing second in the league behind Shamrock Rovers and capturing some silverware like the FAI Cup would represent a successful campaign.

Higgins’s squad remains under construction, so a European odyssey seems unlikely, but failure to reach the second round, where the winners of Ružomberok (Slovakia) and Kauno Žalgiris (Lithuania) await, would be a black mark on the Candystripes’ aspirations of keeping pace with Rovers throughout the next few seasons.

Fresh from a 3-2 win over Bohemians at Dalymount Park, Cameron Dummigan is unlikely to return from injury but Patrick McEleney and Will Patching bring valuable experience from Dundalk’s recent European outings, and in Brian Maher they possess the current Ireland under-21 goalkeeper.

At their best this season, Derry outlasted Rovers, albeit back in February, so a repeat performance will make next week’s trip to Latvia less daunting than a draw tonight or slender lead.

“It’s a 180 minute game of football,” said Higgins now the away goal has been abolished. “And as you said, you used to feel you were 2-0 down if you conceded an away goal but now nothing really changes. It’s just a normal game of football, a 180 minute game of football in fact – that’s how I see it.

“We want to be positive, to attack and to try to win the game.”

Bala Town v Sligo Rovers, Park Hall, England, 7pm – Live LOITV

Home away from home, the match takes place at Park Hall, over the borderline in England, an hour’s drive from the picturesque town of Bala, and its population of 1,974, which is less than the Shropshire venue’s 2,000 capacity. So Sligo really should be making light work of the Cymru Premier Division runners-up.

For Rovers fans unable or unwilling to catch a flight to Liverpool or Birmingham, LOITV is showing the match live for €7. Considering enough momentum was generated by Saturday’s 3-1 defeat of Shelbourne, clean progress into the second round seems certain here, with prize money jumping from €150,000 to €350,000 for another celtic duel against Motherwell.

Airtricity League Premier Division

UCD v Bohemians, UCD Bowl, 7.45pm

As must-win a fixture as Bohs are likely to encounter this season. The students remain competitive, despite the loss of Ireland under-21 stars Colm Whelan and Liam Kerrigan. But the Premier Division table tells no lies for either club after 21 matches with UCD only managing one win while Keith Long’s charges can close the gap to three points behind fifth-place Sligo and in the process halt a two-game losing streak. The expectation is that Dawson Devoy and Promise Omochere will shine brightest on campus.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent