Dundalk caretaker boss Darius Kierans insists his side will continue to fight for points despite their task of avoiding the relegation playoff now looking nigh impossible, ahead of their 178th league game against Shamrock Rovers, at Tallaght Stadium on Friday night (kick-off 8pm).
The Lilywhites fell to their ninth home defeat of the season last weekend when they were beaten 1-0 by Shelbourne after Paddy Kavanagh’s late first-half goal, a loss which leaves them eight points adrift of closest rivals Bray Wanderers.
Dundalk have a game in hand over the Seagulls, who visit the Louth town on the final day of the season, but with just 15 points left to play for, it looks likely that the border club’s campaign will go on a week longer than planned even if they do not make it to the FAI Ford Cup final.
Dundalk have picked up just five points from the last 42 available, and have lost the last five league games on the trot. They are also without a league clean-sheet since Shels made their previous trip north on 6 April, over 1,900 minutes of action ago.
In between all that, the side has gone unbeaten in five FAI Cup and League Cup outings, exiting the latter competition on penalties to near neighbours and eventual winners Drogheda United.
Dundalk are also the only side yet to concede in this season’s FAI Cup, where they have beaten Saint Patrick’s Catholic Youths, Malahide United and Bohemians.
On Sunday week, they entertain Saint Patrick’s Athletic in the semi-final, but it was their trip to Richmond Park on 21 May that produced their last league win, thanks to a late brace of free-kicks from Mark Griffin. That was over four months ago.
Since then, they have lost crucial leads against UCD, Sligo Rovers, Shamrock Rovers, Bray and Drogheda, going on to pick up just three points from a possible 15 from those winning positions.
At the same time, they have gained just two points having been behind in the other nine games in that period.
Kierans has been in charge for ten of those 14 league games following the departure of Seán McCaffrey in early July.
Now, the former Drogheda boss goes into the dugout for the 13th time in all competitions. And he is hopeful – while admitting it’s unlikely – that if it can be a lucky 13 then they may still pull themselves away from the dreaded playoff, which would be Dundalk’s first in five years.
They will, however, travel to the capital without key players, defender Derek Foran, who has started the last 21 games and who is the leading contender for the club’s Player of the Year award, and seven-goal Griffin, who has started the last 18.
They will also be looking to end a two-year wait for a win over Rovers, with their last eight meetings with the Hoops producing three draws and five defeats.
“We haven’t given up. Of course, you have to be realistic about it and be looking at the playoff, but there are still a lot of points to play for,” Kierans said.
“UCD have won five out of their last six games so you can’t legislate for that. I think we’re in a false position, eight points behind Bray, because there are a lot of games where we deserved something or deserved more than we got.
“We have to keep going. There is no doubt that we have to get a win in our next two games, either in Tallaght on Friday or The Brandywell next Tuesday, otherwise we’ll be in the playoff.”
Rovers have lost their last four games, including exiting the FAI Ford Cup to Shelbourne at the quarter-final stage and being beaten in the League Cup final by Drogheda.
Their latest defeat came on Tuesday night when St. Pat’s got the better of them on a 2-1 scoreline. That was a game that Kierans took in, and he says the Hoops could have got something out of it after conceding two goals in the first ten minutes.
The 33-year-old is also hoping that the players that remain from the 6-0 defeat by Rovers in Tallaght back in April can learn from that experience.
“I watched Rovers play St. Pat’s and it’s probably a game they should have got something out of,” Kierans said.
“They conceded early from a soft penalty and then they conceded again a couple of minutes later. But they showed a lot of character and battled back into the game and might have got a point in the end.
“They still have a fantastic squad and Tallaght is always a difficult place to go, so we know the task facing us.
“We are missing Derek and Mark who have been excellent for us this season but that gives an opportunity to other players to come in and step up to the plate.
“Tallaght is a great place to play. It’s the best ground in the League of Ireland and there is always a great atmosphere.
“We had a bad time there earlier in the season, losing 6-0, but hopefully the players can put that right. We have a lot of young players and that kind of game will have been a good learning curve for them.
“It’s important that they learn from going to places like Tallaght, and hopefully they can do themselves justice. We have already gone to The Brandywell and Richmond Park this season and won, as well as Dalymount Park in our last away game, so I think we can go to Tallaght with some confidence.”
Milestones: Liam Burns (75th league appearance)
Out: Mark Griffin, Derek Foran (both suspended), Lorcan Shannon (on-loan from Rovers) & Garreth Brady (ankle)
Doubtful: Gary Shanahan (thigh)
Recovered: Peter Thomas (thigh) & Robbie Gaul (knee)
Dundalk will be without centre-half Derek Foran and striker Mark Griffin through suspension.
Griffin is serving an automatic ban following last Friday’s controversial sending-off against Shelbourne, and will also miss next Tuesday’s trip to Derry City due to the accumulation of four yellow cards.
On a night when 33-year-old Liam Burns could make his 75th league appearance for the club, the Lilywhites will be without young winger Lorcan Shannon who is unavailable due to the terms of his loan agreement from Shamrock Rovers.
Top scorer, eight-goal Gary Shanahan (thigh) is doubtful once again having missed last week’s visit of Shels.
The Louth club will also again have to do without Garreth Brady (ankle) but fellow central midfielder Peter Thomas (thigh) and right-back Robbie Gaul (knee) come back into contention following injury.