Saints praying for lift in form
St Pat's v S Rovers Richmond Park, KO 7.45
For so long now, St Patrick's Athletic have been known for playing the beautiful game.
But manager Liam Buckley admits it's about to get "dog rough" in the final five weeks of the season as the Saints try to preserve their status as one of only two current League of Ireland clubs who have never suffered the ignominy of playing in the First Division.
Two defeats in their last two league games (with a worrying tally of nine goals leaked) and a lift in form for other relegation-threatened sides like Galaway United and Limerick leaves Pat's in a bad place - the bottom three.
The Saints have a game in hand on the teams around them, and a draw at home to Rovers tonight would lift them out of the bottom three and dump Sligo Rovers into the drop zone, thanks to a superior goal difference.
But Pat's were wide open for long spells of their 3-2 loss away to Bohs on Friday and badly need to tighten up at the back if they are to stop a Rovers side who are averaging just short of three goals per game in recent league matches.
"We have five games to go and we have to pick ourselves up for Monday and try to get something out of the game," says Buckley.
"Looking at the league table, we are in the bottom three. It's going to be dog rough, there are six teams still concerned with getting dragged into it
"The fixture list is there for all the other teams, they are all looking at where they can pick up points. We have five matches left, we have to start picking up points quickly.
"If we do lose tonight we still have 12 points to play for, and 37 points might do it for you. But I can guarantee you, if we win the next two or three games I would still be concerned as you just don't know what's going to happen with the other teams. It will go to the last day of the season, six of us are in the same boat," added Buckley, eager for a lift in spirits after the Bohs defeat.
"It's important we don't let the nerves and the pressure get to us, we need to make sure we perform as well as we can.
"If we do that we will get our result."
Pat's will be without Gavin Peers through suspension but Ian Bermingham returns from a ban, though Barry Murphy and Darren Dennehy remain absent. Polish 'keeper Lukasz Skowron makes his home league debut for the Saints.
Rovers, without the injured Graham Burke, were pleased to see Luke Byrne make his first appearance in six week in Friday's win over Finn Harps.
An impressive run in the league (four straight wins) leaves Rovers on course for a top-three finish, especially as their closest rivals for that spot, Derry City, appear to be in freefall, summed up by Friday's shock 5-0 defeat at home to Bray Wanderers.
But Rovers have struggled against Pat's this season (a defeat and a draw), something that Hoops boss Stephen Bradley - a former Saints player - is keen to change.
"We need to get to our levels and our standards again," he says when asked about the challenge in the Luas Derby.
"I felt we haven't hit our levels against Pat's this year. Pat's are probably the only team that we haven't performed against this year so we'll be looking to put that right tonight."