Gartland praises defensive strength
Defender Brian Gartland has praised Dundalk’s strength in depth as a defensive unit this season, in which they have conceded only 10 goals in 22 league games to date.
A fifteenth clean sheet of the season helped the Lilywhites extend their winning run to seven league games with a 4-0 victory over relegation-threatened Limerick on Friday, but the 31-year-old was refusing to get carried away.
“We’re happy with the win but we expect to be winning games at home against the bottom teams,” Gartland told dundalkfc.com after the game.
“We had a bit of a slow start first half and made it harder than we should, missed a few chances and were maybe a bit off the pace in terms of our pressing game, but we dug it out and Pat [Hoban] got a great goal before the break.
“Second half we were in control but if you give a goal away from a long throw or a free kick and it bounces the wrong way, then it’s one-all and there’s a game on. Then they’ve got 11 men behind the ball and can be hard to break down with something to fight for so the next goal was massive, but once we got that we opened them up a bit.”
Captain in the absence of the injured Stephen O’Donnell, Gartland has been happy with his own form since regaining his place in the side following a series of early-season setbacks, but was keen to praise the defensive effort of everyone in the squad.
“I’m happy out,” said the Dubliner. “I thought I had a good game tonight. I read one situation wrong but recovered and nothing came of it, but the clean sheet is the main thing.
“We’re on a good run with four clean sheets out five now and have had a good habit of that this season. We’ve used 10 players [in the league] between defenders and ‘keeper, but it’s the whole team that does the work because we press from the front. Half the time the ball doesn’t even get down to us, with the lads in the midfield cutting it out.”
With Sean Gannon returning from injury, competition for places in the back four will no doubt heat up even more in the coming weeks – something which Gartland welcomes.
“It’s a great thing, the competition is what you need to drive you but the way it works out, with suspensions and injuries, there’s nobody’s being left out the last while.
“Hopefully everyone stays fit and we have just pure competition, but then it’s up to us to fight for the shirt and everyone’s doing a great job. But if we are missing someone, then there’s someone equally as good to fill in.”
Stephen Kenny’s side will seek to extend their winning run to eight games on Friday as they travel to the Brandywell to take on Derry City, less than a month after a thrilling 4-1 victory at the same venue – a fixture postponed from the first series of games.
The match is the last before the SSE Airtricity League’s mid-season break and Gartland knows the importance of hitting the break on a winning note.
“It’s really important to go into the break with another win, especially with the first game after being Cork at home,” he said.
“I suppose it’s a cliché but you just have to look after the next game. Because we played Derry up there so recently it can be a tricky one, because you never get the same game when you play teams twice so close together.
“The second game can be a tricky one in that sort of situation, so we’ll need to have our wits about us. Derry and their manager are good at coming up with a game-plan for us, but we’re equally as good or even better at that sort of thing, so we expect to go up and get the three points.”
With a thrilling title race in store and Europa League qualifying on the horizon, the summer break brings with it much anticipation for Dundalk supporters, but Gartland insists that the players remain fully focused on the next game at all times.
“People will all start talking about Europe now because the draw’s coming up in a couple of weeks,” he added.
“Listen, I’ve been here five or six seasons now and that’s normal, people will get excited, but you can’t take your eye off the next game.
“It’s proven not just with ourselves but other teams, if you do look ahead you’re more likely to slip up, so it’s vital we keep our focus firmly on the next game, then everything looks after itself.”