Turners Cross plays host to one of the biggest games of the season in the League of Ireland Premier Division as second-placed Cork City face first-placed Dundalk.
The Leesiders and the Lilywhites have been swapping between first and second place for weeks but Friday night will see the Rebel Army attempt to equal Dundalk’s points tally, while the Lilywhites aim to extend their lead at the top of the table to six. Rob Lyons gives us three reasons why Cork City will come out on top at the Cross.
Cork City have a lingering memory since the beginning of May of their worst loss of the season; a 4-0 hammering by the Lilywhites to give them motivation for tonight’s fixture. Although a loss like this may indicate that Dundalk are a step ahead of the Rebel Army, this Cork City team have improved week on week since that performance, only losing two league games and winning every other match besides a solitary draw against Sligo.
Although a loss last week to Bohemians is not a good sign coming into the game, this Cork City team has a tougher side to them this year instilled by new manager, John Caulfield. They have been put under pressure during games and have had to bounce back after losses. The team has done this brilliantly and is another reason why rectifying the one major blip they have had against Dundalk could come tonight in Turners Cross.
2. Home advantage
Turners Cross – the cross, the box; any name you want to call it, it is a ground teams love to play at, arguably the best League of Ireland stadium but also one of the most fearsome atmospheres that teams will face in the entire season. This is no more true than it will be tonight in the Southside of Cork City as the Rebel Army faithful help this City side over the line as they aim to pursue a first league title in nine years.
There are some grounds in the league where home advantage really can make a difference; the Brandywell, Tallaght Stadium etc. This year Turners Cross has returned to the top table of stadiums with a feeling of inevitability once the referee blows his whistle for kick off.
This thinking is backed up when you look to this season’s stats – City have won seven of the ten games they have played at home, drawn three while scoring 20 goals and conceding only six. This brilliant record will not inspire confidence among any team coming to play in Turners Cross even the table toppers, Dundalk.
3. The John Caulfield factor
Since returning to the club as manager following such a successful playing career with City; the club’s all time appearance holder and joint top goalscorer, Caulfield. has given this squad a new lease of life and has made some inspiring signings out of nowhere.
Most notably Mark O’Sullivan comes to mind when thinking of the inspired signings that Caulfield has made. O’Sullivan signed from the Munster Senior League and has made the step up brilliantly while filling in for the injured Michael Rafter and Danny Morrissey who have yet to really make any impact this season.
In addition to the inspired signings that Caulfield has made, he is getting the best out of established players such as Colin Healy and Dan Murray, both of whom are in the winter of their careers but appear to have been hugely inspired by the new manager with their performances drastically improved from last term. The experience and talent of both these players will be vital to a good City performance tonight, particularly Healy who will attempt to take control of midfield and dictate play.
Finally the football Caulfield is playing is very effective. Organisation is at the key to everything the team does. Although at times O’Sullivan can be relied on too much to hold the ball up and bring other players into the game it is still crucial he stays fit if City are to sustain a real title push and a big performance will be needed from him tonight. Another crucial part to the success of Caulfield’s tactics is the trio that tends to play in central midfield of Healy, Gary Buckley and Gearóid Morrissey (who is a doubt for tonights game).
Despite the chance of Morrissey being out for tonights game, Caulfield’s players have shown they are adaptable to play out of position or fill in just as well as the players that are there already.
Prediction: Cork City 2-1 Dundalk
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena.