Sligo Rovers return to action in the Airtricity Premier Division for a vital match with second-place Drogheda United in The Showgrounds on Saturday.
The league leaders have been out of league action for two weeks due to the Europa League qualifiers and have seen their lead at the top cut to a point by this week’s opponent.
Last week Rovers exited the Europa League after a 4-2 aggregate defeat to Spartak Trnava.
Rovers will be without Danny Ventre because of suspension while Danny North is ruled out for the reason of the season due to a crucial ligament injury.
North visited a specialist yesterday and will shortly have surgery with the view to being fit for the start of next season.
Ian Baraclough’s side have no other injury concerns going into the game. The Bit o’ Red have won their last eight meetings with Drogheda, stretching back to May 2010, and will hope to build on the lead at the summit.
Baraclough said: “These are the games you want to be involved in, it is a challenge and an exciting game. I think in the two matches with Trnava and Cork we had some emotionally and physically exhausting experiences and it was probably a good thing we didn’t have a game last weekend. It was a disappointment but we’re ready to put our focus back on the league.”
Drogheda come into the game on a fantastic run of wins, having reduced Rovers’ lead last week with a win over UCD, and Baraclough is expecting one of the most difficult matches in The Showgrounds this year.
“We know that if we keep on winning our games then we will have no concerns about what other teams do. They are on a great run, Mick Cooke has done a marvellous job and they will come here with thoughts of coming away with three points. It is up to us to cope with that and it’ll be tough but we’ve prepared very well this week and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The loss of North for the rest of the campaign is a blow to the Bit o’ Red but the Rovers boss feels there is enough strength in the Rovers squad to cope without the striker.
“There are players who will relish the chance to come into the team and the rest of the squad must also respond. We’ve created opportunities in every game this season and Danny has been the most clinical with them but it isn’t just about the strikers. It is up to all our attacking players to chip in with goals and that is something for us to improve on for the rest of the year.”
The Europa League match saw a record seated crowd at the Showgrounds and this league games marks a return to Saturday night football, only the third time Rovers have played at our designated kick-off this year. A large home support is expected with just six home matches to come after Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to playing at our regular time and that extra special atmosphere the Showgrounds has on a Saturday night,” said the Rovers boss.
“I think we’re in for an exciting end to the season and we’ll try to send our fans home happy on Saturday and set ourselves up for the rest of the campaign.”