Dundalk are out to extend their record-breaking run of home clean-sheets in their final game before the mid-season break as Sligo Rovers come to Oriel Park for a huge SSE Airtricity Men’s Premier Division clash on Thursday night (kick-off 7.45pm).

The Bit O’Red were the last opposing team to score at Oriel Park over three months ago, inflicting a 5-0 hammering on a miserable March 4th night, with bottom-of-the-table Dundalk amazingly rattling off seven straight clean-sheets on the Carrick Road since then.

Dundalk were rooted to the foot of the standings since that walloping until the June Bank Holiday win at Saint Patrick’s Athletic, but they dropped back to tenth after Drogheda United’s draw with the Saints coupled with their own defeat by league leaders Shelbourne last Friday.

Ex-Lilywhite John Martin came back to haunt his old club with a 71st-minute close-range finish at Tolka Park to keep Damien Duff’s side at the top of the league, as a depleted Dundalk – who had two teenagers and a 20-year-old in the backline – lost 1-0.

Jon Daly’s men, having picked up a valuable three points in the capital last week, will now look to continue their solid home form. Having suffered beatings by Galway United and Sligo in their opening two fixtures at Oriel Park this campaign, they are unbeaten in the subsequent seven, with wins over Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers along with five scoreless draws.

Still, statistically, Dundalk have the worst home record in the top flight – and second-worst in the country above only Longford Town – but a win here could catapult them up that particular table, and would lift them to within six points of sixth-placed Sligo in the overall standings.

The two Louth clubs are separated only by goal difference at the bottom, Drogheda better off by two goals while they have also scored eight more, but over the coming weeks Dundalk will hope to make the most of a home run of games against Sligo, Waterford, Drogheda and Galway.

Not since Max Mata netted in the 62nd minute of that March meeting with John Russell’s side have Dundalk conceded at Oriel Park, as the now Auckland-based striker slotted past Ross Munro, who came on at half-time when already 4-0 down.

The Scottish ‘keeper faces a race against time to make this date having had to pull out of the Shels game in the warm-up due to a quad injury he had been suffering with in the days leading up to it, with 19-year-old Seán Molloy – the late deputy in Tolka – ready to step in for his home debut if required.

Sligo come here on the back of a heavy loss in Waterford, going down 4-1 at the RSC last Friday where Russell had plenty of selection headaches due to a long absentee list, with goalkeeper Ed McGinty – who has made the most saves in the division this year (79) – again performing well despite the scoreline.

That defeat came on the back of an impressive run of results which saw the Connacht club collect seven points from nine against Derry City, Shelbourne and Drogheda, and it would have been the maximum only for Will Patching’s late penalty in the North last month.

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That haul of points has helped Sligo to skip away from relegation trouble and they will hope to put 12 points between themselves and bottom place with another win at Oriel. The Bit O’Red have bagged 13 points at home and 12 on the road, with a total of 32 goals witnessed in their ten away days so far.

These teams’ last meeting came on April 19th, a 1-1 draw where Jamie Gullan’s early second-half penalty cancelled out Fabrice Hartmann’s 16th-minute opener from distance. Gullan was later denied a second by the linesman’s flag in what was a very marginal offside call.

Dundalk, who won in Sligo late last season, were last successful at home to their opponents from the West in August when Daniel Kelly’s early goal was enough to secure a 1-0 win.

Tickets for Thursday’s match are now on general sale.

Team News
Louie Annesley returns after missing the last two games because of international duty and Zak Bradshaw is also available but Jamie Gullan and Ross Munro are doubtful while Koen Oostenbrink and Dara Keane are injured. Robbie Mahon, who has not featured since April, is hoping to be back in the squad.

Quotes – Seán Molloy
“On a personal note, it was great, getting that first start in the league against Shelbourne last week. It was a great experience. I don’t think I could have made it in a better place, away to the league leaders, the standard-bearers. I was buzzing to get the start but disappointed not to leave with the three points. We’ve got Thursday now to set that right.

“Ross picked up that injury during the week, so I prepared myself the whole week that on Friday if something was to happen, I’m ready to step in. That’s how it has to be. I was a bit nervous in the warm-up but once I went in to get the kit on and I came out in the tunnel, I was ready to go.

“I think it’s important for myself to take it all in. Horgs (Daryl Horgan) was saying to me in the dressing-room before the game, enjoy it, you only make your debut once. It really just came to me when I got the shout, I was saying this is what I’ve been training for, the last six to seven years was leading up to this, grab it with both hands, and I thought I did alright.

“It would be great to play in front of these great home fans on Thursday. That’s what you dream of, playing in front of a packed Oriel Park.

“I’d be buzzing to play against Sligo if I get the shout. Like last week, I’ll prepare as if I am going to play, but if not, I’ll be happy for Ross to come back in, back to full fitness and hopefully keep that eighth clean-sheet.”

Match Officials
Referee: Paul McLaughlin
Assistants: Darragh Keegan and Darren Corcoran
Fourth Official: Declan Toland