Title chasing Stephen O'Donnell isn't expecting any favours from Derry City
STEPHEN O'Donnell claims St Patrick's Athletic have already achieved one of their pre-season targets by sustaining a fight on two fronts at the business end of the campaign.
And while their slim hopes of hunting down Shamrock Rovers in the league title race are hanging by a thread, O'Donnell doesn't expect any favours from Derry City when the teams meet at the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium on Friday night.
A former teammate of Ruaidhri Higgins, O'Donnell remains good friends with the Limavady man and expects the Brandywell boss to make it difficult for his charges on Foyleside as the Candy Stripes have their own ambitions of qualifying for Europe.
The Saints remain in the hunt for a first league title since 2013 but the current nine point margin between them and leaders, Rovers, is likely to be too great to make up with just seven matches remaining.
Rovers lost to Dundalk in their last outing and have difficult tests against third placed Sligo and Bohemians in their next two league fixtures but it would be a major shock if they failed to retain their title.
A league title was most probably not the Inchicore club's original goal at the beginning of the year and O'Donnell is delighted to be in the position they're in with an FAI Cup semi-final also to look forward to.
Before then it's a trip north to Brandywell after a two week break and O'Donnell is expecting a difficult challenge from the Foylesiders.
"We obviously had a free week after the Drogheda game so the players had Saturday, Sunday and Monday off and then we're back training on Tuesday as normal. So we've had a good build up. We've had a good week's training.
"Going up to Derry, even when Derry are struggling, it's a really tough place to go and obviously they;'re doing very well since Ruaidhri has come in so we're under no illusions it will be a very difficult game but a game we're really looking forward to.
"They have some very good players," he added. "They've always had some very good players and as you've seen with recent results and performances they're a good team. Nothing changes in our regard.
"We know we're a good team and if we play to our potential we're a very tough opposition for any team. And we also know that if we don't apply ourselves in the right way, any team can turn us over so nothing changes with regards to our own preparation and attitude toward the game."
Defeats to Finn Harps (3-1), Sligo Rovers (2-0) and Shamrock Rovers (1-0) in recent weeks ultimately derailed the Saints' title tilt. A last ditch victory over Drogheda United in their last outing got them back on track and while it's likely too little, too late in terms of keeping on the coattails of the reigning champions, O'Donnell is delighted his team remain in contention for honours at this late stage of the campaign.
"That was our goal at the start of the season was when you go into the last round of games that your games are consequential and there's a meaning for them, there's something riding on them and that's where we're at in our last seven league games starting on Friday," said the former Dundalk midfielder.
"Obviously we have the cup semi-final the following week so that's our first achievement done, making sure we have lots to play for, come the last series of games. That's where we're at now and how we take those games will determine quite a lot.
"As I've said, 29 games in and we're in the cup semi-final, I'm delighted with the players, the experienced players and younger players, I'm delighted with their application and attitude all season. Training sessions are always very good and it fills you with optimising going forward.
"I'm looking forward to the run-in. It will be exciting for the fans also and the players and staff and we'll embrace it."