Dundalk head coach Stephen O’Donnell is expecting an action-packed encounter when the Lilywhites take on Bohemians at Oriel Park on Friday night.
Both clubs have recorded a similar start to the campaign. After last week’s 2-2 draw with UCD, Dundalk occupy fourth place with a return of 22 points from their opening 14 games while the Gypsies lie a further three points, and two places, behind.
And with league leaders Shamrock Rovers playing host to second-placed Derry City, and third-placed St Patrick’s Athletic travelling to fifth-placed Sligo Rovers on Saturday, O’Donnell knows it’s an opportunity for his side to make up ground in what has proven to be a hugely competitive campaign to date.
“The other four teams around us play against each other this weekend but I think there will constantly be swings and opportunities for teams to make up ground on others across the remainder of the season,” he told dundalkfc.com. “We are 14 games in and it’s tight and competitive and I don’t think that’s going to change. There are a lot of teams at a similar enough level.
“Quite a few clubs are in their first year of a project, or a long-term plan. Bohs have had to rebuild, bringing in a lot of new players, and we have had to build straight off the bat so there are a lot of clubs in a similar boat and it’s a case of who can adapt the quickest. It’s going to be tight and there’ll be plenty of twists and turns.”
Dundalk and Bohemians played out a thrilling 2-2 draw at Dalymount Park back in February and O’Donnell said his players were aware of the threat that the Gypsies carry going forward.
“Bohs are one of the most dangerous teams in the league,” he said. “They have really potent attacking players all across the front areas of the pitch, really dynamic and explosive. You could see that in their goal against Derry City last Friday night; they were defending a ball in their box and then six to seven seconds later they are up the other end scoring a goal.
“They are probably not too dissimilar to us. They’ve drawn a lot of games and have lost three of 14 whereas we have lost two of our 14. They have been very competitive in every game and they are a good team who are gradually coming up the table and in a little bit of form.
“Our record over the last five games is pretty similar as well so it’s going to be two good teams going at it and I’m looking forward to the game.
“We dropped two points against UCD last week but from a work rate, honesty and attitude standpoint, I can have no qualms. Week-on-week, we are trying to get better quality-wise, and I think we have shown lots of glimpses of that. We have been on a good trajectory and we are looking forward to getting back out at Oriel.”
After being sent off against UCD, Andy Boyle is suspended but Mark Connolly returns after sitting that game out with a one-match ban of his own. Dundalk have also been handed a massive boost by the news that John Martin, who came off the bench to score in the last two home games against Shelbourne and Drogheda United, is fully fit after shaking off a knee injury that limited his involvement at Belfield to just two minutes.
“John had some damage to his lateral knee ligaments which was causing him trouble when he’d strike a ball,” said O’Donnell. “When we took him back into training it was irritating him so it was a case of taking one step forward and two back.
“Last week, we decided to give him a free week with no training and the plan was only to use him against UCD if he was really needed, which is why he only came on for the last four or five minutes. He wasn’t a realistic option last Friday but he has been back in full training since then and has trained well.”