THEY HAVE been the surprise packets of the 2011 League of Ireland season, and Derry City hope to raise a few more eyebrows tonight when they travel to Dublin in a do-or-die game for their league title push.
Only promoted back to the top flight at the start of the season following a one-year stay in Division One and rated as 12/1 outsiders for the league back in March, Derry are still in contention to land the 2011 championship if -- and that's a big if -- they can keep up their good record against Shamrock Rovers and win at Tallaght Stadium tonight.
A win in Dublin would put Derry just two points behind leaders and reigning champions Rovers, though the Hoops' remaining games are very winnable ties against UCD and bottom side Galway United.
It's hard to see Rovers slipping up in those matches even if Derry do win in Dublin this evening, but Derry boss Stephen Kenny is aware that City have a very good record against Rovers and were one of the first teams to win in Tallaght after Rovers moved there in 2009, so he plans to make the final phase of the title race interesting at least.
"The Rovers match is not a league title decider, but it's a tremendous opportunity for us to remain in the race and attempt to achieve something that has never been achieved before," said Kenny.
"I think it's fair to suggest that we have surprised many with our performances this season, but we have ambition and we'll be taking that to Tallaght.
"We can't afford to be cautious, we've got to try to win the game.
"There is pressure at times like this but I think there was more pressure on us last year, when we were in the First Division and there was real expectation on us to get out of that division at the first attempt.
"We had to go to Monaghan to win the First Division title last season and we did that.
"We've won big games this season -- we went to Cork and beat Cork City in the EA Sports Cup final so let's see what happens tonight."
It's in Derry's favour that they have been a bogey side for Rovers this season.
The Hoops have gained the smallest return of points from their games with Derry (two points for the Dublin club from three games in the Rovers-Derry fixture) than any other club in the league.
Rovers have taken maximum points against Galway, UCD, Drogheda United and dropped only a couple of points against Dundalk, St Pats and Bohs.
Of course the aces are in the hands of home side Rovers tonight, as they know that a win here and then another win away to UCD on Monday week could gift them the league with a game to spare, saving them from the final-day agony of last season when Rovers flirted with disaster against Bray Wanderers before getting over the finishing line.
"This is a huge game for us. A win in this fixture would give us a good cushion at the top of the league, and that will be our aim going into the game," says Rovers boss Michael O'Neill.
"The lads did very well to get the win on Sunday against Bray, and they will need to do the same against Derry. It's sure to be a tight game, and we'll need to work hard. But the players are very much up for that and are looking forward to the game. It'll be important to have a good crowd ahead of us on the night, and that the crowd get behind the team for the full 90 minutes.
"We have to use the benefit of this game being in Tallaght."
In team news, Rovers expect to be without Gary O'Neill and Dean Kelly, while O'Neill will assess the fitness of Enda Stevens after his midweek duties in Liechtenstein with the Ireland U21s.
Derry are missing Eddie McCallion and Owen Morrison but Ryan McBride could return.