Shamrock Rovers boss Michael O’Neill is under no illusions as to the importance of tonight’s top of the table clash with Airtricity League challengers Derry City.
“This is a huge game for us, for both sides really”, the Hoops boss said ignoring the recent reports linking him and assistant manager Jim Magilton to the now vacant Northern Ireland managerial post.
Although a draw would be enough to keep Rovers on path for the league with only two games, against UCD and Galway, to go but O’Neill knows that a close title race is no fun for those involved.
After last year’s scare when they allowed Bohemians to gain 12 points on them before winning their first league in 16 years on goal difference, the Northern Ireland man will set his team out to take all three points.
“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”, he said.
If he holds true to his word, this could be an absorbing encounter as Derry must also play for a win knowing that a perfect record in their last four games will see them to a league title in their first year back in the top flight.
The Candystripes sit five points behind Rovers with a game in hand but their run-in is far from easy as they must travel to St. Patricks Athletic after a visit from bottom side Galway United at the weekend and then host Bohemians at the Brandywell on the final day.
Their win over Dundalk on Saturday was impressive but manager Stephen Kenny knows that Rovers are on another level.
“I suppose [the Dunalk] result is good for us going into the game with Shamrock Rovers on Thursday but it’ll be a different challenge and one thing’s for sure, we’ll have to step our game up”, he said.
The last meeting between the sides ended in an ugly affair when Eamon Zayed accused Chris Turner of racial abuse, Turner was eventually cleared of the charge but the incident has lead to a level of bitterness between the sides over the way it was conducted.
Hoops boss O’Neill though was keen that the Tallaght crowd concentrate on supporting their team.
“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”, he said, “we have to use the benefit of this game being in Tallaght.”
Shamrock Rovers will be without the long term absentee Dean Kelly and Gary O’Neill is doubtful while Enda Stevens will be assessed after returning from international duty with the Ireland Under 21 squad, Stevens came on as a sub in the Republic’s 4-1 win over Lichtenstein.
Derry will be without Eddie McCallion and Owen Morrison but Kenny is hopeful defender Ryan McBride will recover from his groin strain in time to take part.
Shamrock Rovers LDWWDW
Derry City WDWDDW
Shamrock Rovers – Gary Twigg, 14
Derry City – Eamon Zayed, 22