The battle for promotion as top two meet

By Gerard Mulreaney (@gerardmulreaney)

It’s the biggest game of the season in the First Division, as leaders Shelbourne head north up the M1, to take on second-placed Drogheda United on Friday night.

Shelbourne hold a 3-point advantage over the Drogs, however they have an inferior goal-difference to Tim Clancy’s side, so a win for Drogheda will see them go top with just one game remaining. It’s certainly all to play for at United Park, and the sold-out signs have been up all week.

Both sides head into this massive game with more or less fully fit squads, with only Shelbourne pair JR Wilson and Dan Byrne out with long-term injuries.

Drogheda manager Tim Clancy is happy to have the squad fit and raring to go, “Everyone is fit. In Athlone, Mark Hughes was back on the bench and got half a game. He’s had a couple of weeks training now and it’s probably the first time all season we’ve had everyone fit in training and raring to go.

“Adam Wixted came on in the last couple of games now and got minutes, I think it was Wexford at home, then Shamrock Rovers, Athlone.”

It’s a case of the best attack – Drogheda – against the best defence – Shelbourne. In games this season Shelbourne have the edge, thanks to a 2-1 win in Tolka Park in June. In that game a late Derek Prendergast was the difference between the sides.

Drogheda’s strike force is on fire, with Chris Lyons, Stephen Meaney and Mark Doyle all on double figures fir the season, and if they click on the night anything’s possibly.

“There’ll be a good crowd there and it’ll be nice to see United Park buzzing at full capacity. Hopefully now we can prepare well this evening and go into tomorrow’s game full of confidence and hopefully get the result we want,” Clancy said.  

For Shelbourne, keeping the home fans quiet early on will be crucial. The more experienced players, the likes of Karl Moore, Ciarán Kilduff, Conan Byrne, and local boy Ryan Brennan will be vital to their success. Youngster Jaze Kabia also returns to Ian Morris’s side following suspension.

Morris said the players are “hungry and focused” heading into what could be described as the biggest Reds game in years. 

“We’ve approached this game as we have every other game, nothing has changed, we’ll be looking for three points as we would every game,” he said. 

Both managers know it will be a tight game despite the fact that Drogheda have been scoring for fun of late, something Morris noted.

“They score a lot of goals, while conceding a lot as well. They look to outscore the opposition but you see the last couple of games between us have been close competitive games.”

Ahead of the game Morris praised the clubs supporters, calling them, “the best in the league” this year and expects tomorrow’s sold out Shels crowd to be “crucial.”

“You see the numbers that are travelling. With that atmosphere, it could feel like a home game to us.”

Drogheda supporters got welcome news last week when it was announced that the management team of Tim Clancy and Kevin Doherty had agreed to extend their contracts for two more years. It’s a huge boost for the club, after Clancy almost left the club at the end of last season, ironically to Friday’s opponents.

Clancy said of the new contract, “We spoke to the club in regard to the contract being up at the end of the season, so we knew that we’d have to sit down and have a chat eventually. Because we’ve had a good season and last season we had a good season aswell, the club asked if we wanted to extend it and we were happy to stay.”

“We’re going on now, finishing the second season here and it’s been a really enjoyable time and I think with the squad we have, if we keep the players we have and add to it, I think we could have a very good season next year, in either division, wherever we end up.”

Buckle up, it’s going to be a roller-coaster of a night at United Park.

Picture Credit: FAI

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