STEPHEN KENNY has challenged his troops to put their ‘disastrous’ exit from the FAI Cup firmly behind them and lift themselves for the next ten days which could define their Airtricity Premier League season.
SIMON COLLINS reports
The Dubliner refuses to dwell on the ‘Candy Stripes’ shock 4-1 defeat to Wexford Youths last Friday night and views the prospect of going head-to-head with the league’s top four clubs as an exciting challenge.
Despite the premature exit from the FAI Cup, the league and the chase for European qualification was always the priority for last season’s First Division champions.
The League’s top scorers have set the Premier Division alight this season and Kenny believes his side have caught the League of Ireland elite off guard with their early season form.
However, the next ten days represent the club’s biggest challenge to date as they prepare to face high flying St Patrick’s Athletic at Richmond Park tonight (Kick-off 7.45 p.m.) before turning their attentions to next Monday’s clash with reigning champions and league leaders, Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght.
Should the Brandywell outfit escape from those battles unscathed, then Kenny will no doubt relish the prospect of welcoming both Bohemians and Sligo Rovers to Foyleside next Friday and on Tuesday, June 21st respectively.
The City boss has set his sights on qualification for Europe this season which would be a remarkable acheivement for a newly promoted club. However he understands the enormity of the challenge.
“I don’t think the other clubs would have seen us as a threat coming up from the First Division,” said Kenny. “I don’t think any team has come up out of the First Division and went on to qualify for Europe the next season through the league. As manager of Longford I got promotion and then qualified for Europe but that was through the Cup win.
“Teams normally come up and look to stabilise so the big Dublin clubs, St Pat’s, Bohemians, Rovers and Sligo and Dundalk wouldn’t have envisaged us as threats.
“We know last week was a disastrous result, going out of the cup so tamely,” he added. “We would have liked to stay in that competition but the league is without doubt our priority.
“A lot of harsh lessons were learned last week. For a lot of those players it would have been their first set-back but life is never easy. We have an opportunity now with these games, big games, in Tallaght and Inchicore. We’ll take one game at a time.”
The first obstacle for City is the trip to Inchicore tonight where they face a resurgent St Pat’s but Kenny is confident his squad can return with a favourable result which would provide the perfect tonic for last weekend’s disappointment.
“We play the top four in the next ten days and St Pat’s are a real test for us. They’re level on points with us at the moment and are on a great run so we’ll have to be at our best.
“We must believe in ourselves this week. Against St Pat’s, if we were to get a victory, it would give us an enormous lift. We’re the league’s top scorers and Eamon Zayed is the league’s top goalscorer but they have players that can hurt us as well.
“We know their front two, Daniel North and Daryl Kavanagh, are in the goals at the moment but our front two, Patrick McEleney and Eamon, are also in form and we can take confidence from that.”
The Brandywell boss could be forgiven for taking his eye off the ball with a date with Shamrock Rovers on the horizon, but he is aware of the threat posed by the Inchicore outfit.
“We’ll have two eyes firmly on St Patrick’s and then at quarter to ten, I’ll switch my attention to Rovers,” smiled the Dubliner.
“St Pat’s are ambitious. They were leading the league last year for long periods and then they fell away and finished down the table. This year they started slowly but now they’re on a good run. They have a decent squad.”
City will have to prepare without in-form winger, James McClean who misses tonight’s clash through suspension but Kenny has confidence in his ready-made replacement, Stephen McLaughlin who is likely to make his second consecutive start.
“James has been nothing short of exceptional for us this season but Stephen McLaughlin, as a natural left footer, is capable of giving us the balance we need. Look at Eamon Zayed, four of his goals have come from Stephen McLaughlin crosses. He’s been in and out of the team but he’s made a very good contribution.
“Last week obviously didn’t go well but this is a new week, a new game and he’s capable of being an important player for us this year.”
Meanwhile, first choice centre-half, Shane McEleney is expected to recover from a groin strain and take his place alongside Stuart Greacen in defence.