League Preview: Derry City -v- Shamrock Rovers
The Candystripes could move to within a point of the top of the table with a win over league leaders Shamrock Rovers on Friday night in front of the live Virgin Media TV cameras (kick off 7.45pm).
That result would set up a grand stand finish to the season with just six games remaining for both teams after this weekend.
City face a Rovers side in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium who have won three times in the last five matches played between the two teams in the venue.
However, it was the Hoops who prevailed the last times the teams played in Derry – and they backed that up with a 1-0 when they played in Tallaght Stadium in June. That was the last league loss for Ruaidhrí Higgins’ team.
The City boss speaking to his club’s media team spoke about the challenge of facing the four-in-a-row chasing champions.
“They’ve been champions three years in a row and are currently four points clear in the table so of course we know they’re a very good side,” said Higgins. “They have quality throughout the squad, but so do we.”
Both teams have won their last two league matches with Ruaidhrí Higgins’ side defeating UCD 5-0 away from home last week (with braces for both Will Patching and Brandon Kavanagh) which followed a 3-1 victory on their travels in Dundalk.
“We’re playing really well at the minute and the spirit in the dressing room is absolutely brilliant.
“This place will be bouncing on Friday night and I know our supporters won’t need any encouragement to get right behind the players.
“These are the kind of nights that get everyone excited and we’re really looking forward to it.”
In their last two games, the Hoops at home have beaten both Dundalk (1-0) and Bohemians (3-0) to effectively knock those teams out of the title race. A similar result in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium on Friday would likely put pay to the Candystripes title ambitions as Rovers would move seven points clear with just six games remaining.
When the Candystripes beat Rovers 2-1 in Tallaght Stadium in March this year, they were the first team to beat the Hoops at home in league action for 648 days.
That defeat contributed to Rovers’ slow start to the season, but the Hoops have, while not quite reached top form, still sit top of the table with just one defeat in their last 11 league games (in a run which includes seven wins).
Bradley wasn’t buying into the title decider discussion when he spoke with shamrockrovers.ie ahead of Friday’s game between first and second in the table.
“We feel that’s just noise,” said Bradley. “We’ve been around the block and been here before. We understand that regardless of the result in Derry there are a lot of games to be played. We’ll obviously go there to win the game, no doubt about that, but there’s a long way to go and games to be played regardless the result.
“We know Derry are a good side, that hasn’t changed throughout the season. We know they have good players. We know it’s a difficult game but it’s one that we’re more than ready for and we’re looking forward to it.
“We don’t like the surface, but we like the size of the pitch and I think that always helps us up there, the pitch is big and allows us to play our game. But we know it’s a difficult game and we have to respect what Derry have in their team and then impose ourselves on the game as soon as possible.”
The Hoops come into the game after the international break (when Pico Lopes and Markus Poom played for Cape Verde and Estonia respectively) buoyant after their 3-0 win over Bohemians in their last match.
“I thought we were very good in all aspects of our play,” said Bradley. “We controlled most areas of the game. I can’t remember Bohs having anything of real note in the game or any spells in the game which is unusual for a Dublin derby.
“I said before the game their attacking players are a real danger so to keep them quiet for 90 minutes was testament to how we played, so I was really happy with all aspects of the performance”.
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Graham Burke and Rory Gaffney are Rovers’ top goalscorer with eight goals each – two behind the league’s top marksman Max Mata. Jordan McEneff is the top scorer for the Candystripes with seven goals with Mikey Duffy on six.
When the teams met at the Brandywell in the season curtain raiser President’s Cup, City won 2-0 thanks to goals from Will Patching and Michael Duffy.
Rovers’ 3-0 victory was biggest win over Bohs since a 4-0 victory in Dalymount Park in 2016.
Injured: Colm Whelan, Ciaron Harkin
Doubtful: Ronan Boyce
Injured: Jack Byrne