Dundalk will hope to have risen by the end of this long Easter weekend, which begins with an attempt to crack leaders Shelbourne at Tolka Park on Good Friday.

In what is a top versus-bottom SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division clash, the odds are stacked against Stephen O’Donnell’s side, who could find themselves cast adrift before their Easter Monday Louth Derby with Drogheda United at Oriel Park.

Dundalk have not scored since the 33rd minute of the season and are goalless from open play, with just two points accumulated from their opening five games.

The second of those came in their last league outing, at home to Waterford before the international break, when a standout performance from Blues ‘keeper Sam Sargeant kept them scoreless, although Scottish stopper Ross Munro also had to be at his brilliant best.

However, they followed that with a limp exit from the PTSB Leinster Senior Cup four days later, going down 2-0 to non-league St Mochta’s at Porterstown Road.

In one positive, the Lilywhites recorded a 1-0 win over NIFL Premiership leaders Larne in Belfast last Friday thanks to Daryl Horgan and they now look to do likewise against the table-toppers this side of the border.

Since rescuing a point on their opening-day trip to Waterford, Shelbourne have been flawless with five straight wins over Shamrock Rovers, Sligo Rovers, Galway United, Bohemians and Saint Patrick’s Athletic. Damien Duff’s men have conceded just twice in that sequence of victories.

Prior to the break, they were impressive in two away Dublin Derbies, the most recent at Richmond Park where a second-half brace from Englishman Will Jarvis was enough despite Jake Mulraney’s reply.

That win sent Shels five points clear at the summit, as second-placed Derry lost at Dalymount Park on the same night, and sets them up nicely for back-to-back games at Tolka Park, with the Candystripes set to visit on Monday evening.

The Reds lost just two of their 18 Premier Division home games last season – the joint-least alongside champions Shamrock Rovers – and they now face a Dundalk outfit looking to improve on their overall away form.

The Lilywhites were defeated on half of their away trips in 2023, although they have netted seven points from the last 12 available, their mini-unbeaten run coming to an end at St Pat’s earlier this month.

Their last away loss before that was a costly one at Tolka Park in October when Jarvis’ early goal quickly settled the issue.

Their other outing in Drumcondra last term, in April, was extremely disappointing as Robbie Benson missed a penalty after Shane Farrell was sent off and yet it still took a fine late strike from Rayhaan Tulloch to salvage a point.

In their two league meetings at Oriel Park, Dundalk came from behind at half-time to win 2-1 early in the season through Tulloch and Andy Boyle, and then – after a heavy Leinster Senior Cup loss 18 days later – drew 1-1 in August when Harry Wood struck late to deny them.

Dundalk’s last win at Shelbourne was back in February 2020 when Boyle and Patrick Hoban banged in first-half goals in a 2-1 success.

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Team News
Andy Boyle, Jamie Walker and Dara Keane miss out but George Shelvey returns to the squad after missing the last three games with a knee injury and Jamie Gullan is making good progress after limping off in the 0-0 draw with Waterford FC two weeks ago with an ankle injury. Assistant manager Patrick Cregg serves a one-game touchline ban.

Quotes – Stephen O’Donnell
“It’s a big game. Shelbourne have started the season really well and they are top of the league on merit. They play to a certain structure, they’re well organised and they’re well coached but we’ve had a good record against them over the last couple of years. 

“We’re not happy with our league position and we’re not happy with our results thus far. The league table speaks for itself, but I do have a big belief in the group of players we have and I think the last couple of league performances have been a lot better and we need to build on that. 

“A win’s not going to fall into your lap in this league. You need to earn your win and play with aggression and decisiveness on both sides of the ball and we’re fully aware of that. We know what the job entails.

“Ultimately, we’re Dundalk Football Club, we should be winning games, and we’re looking to start that tomorrow night. We’ve all embraced the challenge of where we’re at and we’re looking forward to going up the league table.”

Quotes – Archie Davies
“It’s a game of momentum sometimes. Even getting your first goal, as a striker, you’ll get two or three. I think it will be the same points-wise. With one win we’ll have a lot more belief in ourselves and then I think the points will naturally just keep coming.

“They’ve always been tightly-contested games and good tests between us and Shelbourne and there’s not been too much in them. They’ve been very good so far this season. They’ve come up with some good results. The momentum is with them right now and we just need to find a way to swing it our way. We still believe that we have better quality within the squad and we’ll be confident going into Friday.”

Match Officials
Referee: Damien MacGraith
Assistants: Allen Lynch and Brian Fenlon
Fourth Official: Rob Hennessy