Shamrock Rovers may not have won a game this season yet, but Dundalk head coach Stephen O’Donnell knows what the champions will bring to Oriel Park this evening.
While Bohemians and Derry City are above them in the table, third-placed Dundalk are in fine form with 10 points from their last four games, in which they’ve conceded just one goal.
“Dundalk-Rovers is a fixture you always look forward to,” said O’Donnell, a former Rovers midfielder.
“They haven’t won any games yet, but they haven’t lost many either and they carry a lot of weapons and a lot of good players.
“Performance-wise, they’ve been good and sometimes results can be a bit of an impostor, so we’re under no illusions what they’ll bring, but we also know that we can be really competitive and really good ourselves.”
A player Rovers may not be happy to see making a return to the Dundalk starting XI is attacking midfielder Robbie Benson, who has scored a remarkable 12 goals against tonight’s visitors, eight of them for Dundalk.
O’Donnell has goalkeeper Hayden Muller available despite his red card in last Friday’s Leinster Senior Cup defeat to Shelbourne, though Paul Doyle and Louie Annesley need to prove their fitness while John Mountney remains sidelined long-term.
As they strive for that elusive first victory of the campaign in the quest for four titles in a row, Rovers are fully wary of Dundalk and, not least, their artificial pitch, on which Rovers have a poor record.
In the last two years, Dundalk have won three and drawn the other of the four meetings on the Carrick Road.
“They’ve been in very good form, had some really good results and they’re sitting in a good position in the league so we know it’s going to be a tough game,” said Rovers’ manager Stephen Bradley.
“It always is in Dundalk. The pitch is a complete leveller in that regard, it makes for a different game. They’ve started well and they’re playing well so it’ll be a difficult game.”
Bradley must assess the fitness of centre back Roberto Lopes, who played two Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers for Cape Verde over the last week, the second on Tuesday in South Africa.
Midfielders Ronan Finn, Markus Poom and Dylan Watts are back fit, but winger Simon Power remains out injured.
Derry City visit Shelbourne in their first meeting since November’s FAI Cup final, which the Candystripes won 4-0. Another victory this time would send them top of the table overnight, in advance of Bohemians game at Sligo Rovers on Saturday.
“On the day they were the better side,” recalled Shelbourne manager Damien Duff of his team’s cup final collapse. We’re honest, we know we deserved what we got, we weren’t ready to deliver on the big occasion. But, trust me when I say this, we will be [tonight]. That’s where we’re looking to go.
“I’ve no doubt, the team that is out [on Friday] is a lot better than the team that lost the FAI Cup final. We’re constantly growing, evolving and improving.”
Tonight’s fixtures (7.45)
Cork City v Drogheda united
Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers
St Patrick’s Athletic v UCD
Shelbourne v Derry City
Athlone Town v Galway United
Cobh Ramblers v Bray Wanderers
Waterford v Finn Harps
Wexford v Treaty United