As and Dundalk and Cork City get set to do battle at Oriel Park tonight let’s look at five key questions ahead one of the biggest games of the Airtricity League season.
1) Will This Game Decide The Title?
In a word no, but when you consider how infrequently either side drop points, a victory would be a massive boost as the end of the season draws ever closer.
Third-placed Waterford United are fifteen points behind Dundalk so, as it has been for a while now, it’s a straight shootout between the two sides.
Cork have only dropped 13 points and Dundalk have only dropped 14 points such has been the dominance of the top two. If Cork, especially, can establish a four-point lead at this stage of the season it would be huge.
John Caulfield’s men have played such a dogged style all campaign that it would not be surprising if even four points becomes an unassailable lead.
2) Can Cork’s Guile Get The Better Of Dundalk’s Style?
The defending champions sit a point clear at the top of the table but it’s Dundalk whose style of play this season that has grabbed all of the headlines.
58 goals in 23 games, including 13 in their last three mean that Stephen Kenny’s men have been winning deserved plaudits for their attacking style of play.
Cork, on the other hand, have specialised in grinding out results and have made themselves incredibly hard to beat. The clash of styles will make this one a fascinating affair.
If Cork can cut off the supply to Patrick Hoban then they’ll certainly feel that they are capable of picking up a huge victory at Oriel Park
3) How Do Cork Stop Patrick Hoban?
Cork’s style of play has been far from pretty, but it has been very effective, and defensively they’re going to have to be at their best if they want to neutralise the top scorer in the division, Pat Hoban.
The 26-year-old has grabbed 19 league goals since his return to Dundalk and has scored in all of his last four games, including a superb hat-trick against Limerick a number of weeks ago.
Cork’s defenders will have to get in Hoban’s face and not allow him any space to affect the game.
The former Oxford United striker has proven to be lethal from anywhere this season and with the form he’s currently in he’ll certainly feel he can get the better of The Leesiders backline.
4) Will Recent Meetings Between The Two Have Any Impact On This Game?
Earlier in the season, Dundalk defeated Cork by a single goal to nil at Oriel Park, for what was their first victory against John Caulfield’s men in six games.
Cork then got their own back on Stephen Kenny’s side at Turner’s Cross in April, meaning that Dundalk have only one win in seven against the reigning champions.
To suggest that Cork are Dundalk’s “bogey team” may be reaching a little, but there’s no question that as good as The Lilywhites have been recently, this Cork City side know how to beat them, and that psychological aspect could play into the hands of John Caulfield’s men.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner during the week Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers outlined how that win was important in their season and it dispelled any talk of a Cork hoodoo over the Oriel Park side.
“It was a really good performance from us that night. We had a lot of new faces in the team at the time and it was good to get the win, because we’ve pushed on from then.”
5) Who Did The Break Benefit More?
Coming off the back of eight straight league victories, Dundalk will likely not have wanted the break to come for fear that it would halt their momentum.
The same could be said for The Leesiders however, who are on a seven-game winning streak, and manager John Caulfield has said that his side’s training over the week has been excellent.
Crucially though they must assess the fitness of four of their key men Steven Beattie, Alan Bennett, Gearóid Morrissey and Karl Sheppard who all picked up knocks recently.
Friday night’s clash will likely be a tough game for both sides and Dundalk who came out of the break relatively unscathed in comparison to their opponents will feel that they go into the tie in a position of strength with Stephen O’Donnell and John Mountney remaining the only definite absentees.
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